the assembly

Tuesday 26 September 2006

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Assembly Business

Madam Speaker: In accordance with the Northern Ireland Act 2006, the Secretary of State has directed that the Assembly should sit on Tuesday 26 September 2006 at 10.30 am to consider business as it appears on the Order Paper.

The Late
Mr Michael Ferguson MLA

Madam Speaker: Members, it is my sad duty to inform the House of the death of Mr Michael Ferguson, a Member for the West Belfast constituency. In accordance with convention, as a mark of respect for Mr Ferguson, the sitting will now be suspended until 11.00 am.

The sitting was suspended at 10.33 am.

On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —

11.00 am

Assembly Business

Madam Speaker: Before today’s business, I wish to address the issue of references to members of other elected chambers. Members will recall that, on Tuesday 12 September, I drew attention to a convention previously observed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

For the information of the House, I will quote the words of the former Speaker, which can be found on page 77 of the ‘Northern Ireland Assembly Companion’. In referring to comments made on the Floor about two Northern Ireland Members of the European Parliament, which were capable of being construed as personal criticism, the former Speaker said:

“It is generally accepted in most responsible elected bodies that Members should not comment on Members of other elected chambers, not least because those Members are not present to defend themselves.”

I would also refer Members to the twenty-third edition of Erskine May, which refers, at page 439, to the need to guard against all appearance of personality in debate. I believe that it is appropriate for the Assembly to adhere, where possible, to the guiding principle of guarding against the appearance of personality in debate.

In reminding the House of this principle, and given the range of issues that emerged in the ensuing exchanges with Members, it is apparent from Hansard that the issues on which I sought to offer guidance became less than clear. I would like to take this opportunity to restore some clarity by dealing with each of the areas of apparent confusion in turn.

I will turn first to the issue of naming officials. It has been the convention in the Chamber that references to civil servants should be to an official position and not to a named individual. Indeed, Members may recall that I drew this convention to the attention of the House on 5 June 2006, when I reported that the head of the Civil Service had agreed that Northern Ireland Civil Service officials would attend relevant debates and sit in the officials’ boxes.

With regard to the comments about members of other elected chambers, I have already referred to the background of the existing convention. The convention appears to be more concerned with the avoidance of comments that could be interpreted as being of a personal nature, and to be closely associated with the importance of maintaining the dignity of the House. It is clear that critical comments of a personal nature are equally out of order whether the reference is to a named individual or to that person’s official title.

The two earlier rulings may have become confused, particularly the misconceptions that arose about the use of names. This confusion then became further compounded by reference to “other elected chambers” and “criticism of Ministers”, to which I will now turn.

Always mindful of the dignity of the House, to which I have already referred, it would seem that the proper role of Members of this Chamber would be to comment on, and challenge, the policies of the Government and its Ministers — whether by name or office — in the interests of the electorate. As Speaker, I can think of many occasions since 15 May 2006 on which this has been the case, and I consider that it is perfectly in order for Members to do so.

In the same context, and subject to it being relevant to the business being conducted, I would not generally consider it to be out of order for a Member to comment on the policies of the Government of any country in the world. In so doing, references might properly be made to particular Ministers or, indeed, to the heads of those Governments, with regard to the policy in question.

However, what I would not consider to be in order, in relation to remarks about members of other legislatures, is where comments stray into the arena of personal insults, vitriol or invective.

I would have no hesitation in asking a Member to temper his or her comments where, in my view, a line has been crossed.

My original intention in reminding the House of our conventions stemmed from noting a number of references in the previous day’s Hansard both to civil servants and to current and former Ministers, here and elsewhere. I therefore considered that it might be timely to draw attention to the earlier ruling.

I hope that there is now greater clarity about these issues. If Members continue to have concerns, or seek further clarity, they can be addressed through the usual channels or on advice from the Clerks in the Business Office.

I trust that those matters are now clearer. I shall move on.

Secretary of State Motion

Report on Rights, Safeguards,
Equality Issues and Victims

Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed that Members will be called to speak to the motion, according to the usual conventions, with an upper time limit of 15 minutes to be applied to all those called to speak. The debate will continue until all those who have indicated that they wish to speak have been called to do so. I intend to send a copy of the Official Report of the debate to the Secretary of State.

Motion made:

That the Assembly notes the work of the Committee on the Preparation for Government and the report on Rights; Safeguards; Equality Issues and Victims. — [The Secretary of State.]

Mr McCausland: In the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Democratic Unionist Party committed itself to seeking a fair deal. That principle of fairness is very much in keeping with the core principles of the document ‘A Shared Future’, one of which is equality. The work of the Committee on the Preparation for Government (PFG) was to scope and explore areas that needed to be addressed, and I wish to examine several of those this morning.

The first is the issue of victims. In the course of our discussions about victims, Sinn Féin attempted to remove real differences and to argue that the perpetrators were victims, just as much as those who suffered at the hands of the perpetrators. That position is dishonest; however, it is very much part of republican thinking, because there has been no remorse from the IRA, and there is certainly no sign of repentance. Furthermore, Sinn Féin continues to glorify and extol the role of the IRA in its terrorist campaign over the past 30 years.

Our position is absolutely clear. There is no correlation or comparison between, on the one hand, the terrorist who planted a bomb in a shop on the Shankill Road on a busy Saturday and was blown up by that bomb and, on the other hand, the innocent victims, including children, who were killed by that bomb.

The PFG Committee touched on the issue of the past and how to deal with it, and how to explore and remember the past. However, although those issues were raised, there was no agreement, in spite of the confusion on one occasion in the ranks of Sinn Féin. How can we hope to get to the truth when Martin McGuinness is bound by an IRA code of silence, and Gerry Adams cannot even remember being in the IRA. We may ask what his role was in the republican movement in west Belfast, for example, at the time of the Bloody Friday bombings, but we are unlikely to get much help from him in answering that question.

On the question of victims, the DUP put to the Committee the possibility of developing a border fund. Along the border are Protestant communities that suffered a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the IRA. Many of the victims were farmers and young Protestants, who carried on working on border farms, but who were selected by the IRA and murdered in order to drive the families off the farms. The way in which that was done was sustained, systematic and sectarian. The IRA took its terrorist campaign to every part of Northern Ireland, but that aspect was unique to border areas. Those communities that suffered in that way deserve special support to rebuild themselves.

For that reason, there should be a special border fund for those border communities that have been targeted by terrorists.

The PFG Committee touched on the parades issue; it is now quite a number of years since Sinn Féin started to agitate around parades of the Orange Order and other Loyal Orders. As part of its strategy of broadening the battlefield, the republican movement organised residents’ groups, orchestrated protests against parades, demonised orangemen, and cultivated a hatred of them. That cynical political decision was aimed at damaging the Orange Order, demoralising orangemen, dividing the unionist community and diverting unionists from other important work.

Today, we live with the legacy of Sinn Féin’s strategy, which claims main arterial routes as the property of republicans and demands that those who wish to use those roads seek Sinn Féin’s consent. There must be an end to the Parades Commission and the current processes. A new approach is needed, based on a shared future, that sees our main arterial routes as shared public space. Sinn Féin says that it wants to share Government with unionists, but at the same time refuses to share main roads with us. Sinn Féin has created a poison that pollutes the life of our society. If the desired stability and peace are to be achieved, that problem must be resolved.

‘A Shared Future’ envisages a society with equality at its heart. However, the Government continue to pursue policies based on inequality and discrimination, one of the most notorious examples of which relates to the funding of festivals, particularly in Belfast. For many years, the Government have given substantial annual grants to the West Belfast Festival. Indeed, one civil servant, whom I dare not name, told me that a way had to be found of “laundering the money” so that it would find its way to the West Belfast Festival — an organisation whose board reads like a who’s who of the republican movement.

Money also went to the Ardoyne Fleadh, which benefited from the renowned cultural skills of Eddie Copeland, and to the New Lodge Festival, which has more than a nodding acquaintance with Sinn Féin. Over the years, millions of pounds have been handed over to those festivals, enabling a growth in infra­structure, expertise and skills that is not available to unionist communities. This has enabled the construction of other cultural projects that now operate almost, or entirely, independently.

The disparity in funding was brought to the attention of the Government, which, after years of prevarication, initiated a review. In the meantime, the Government decided to fund only those festivals that were already being funded. As a result, the three republican festivals were locked into funding and unionist communities were locked out. The equality implication of that decision was ignored. The review took several years, and throughout that period unionist festivals remained locked out while republicans were assured of continued funding.

Eventually a new, fairer system was introduced — something for which the DUP had lobbied for years — in which everyone was to be treated equally. However, that was not good enough for Sinn Féin. After both Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly made their way to the Northern Ireland Office and met the Secretary of State, republican festivals received not only money from the new scheme, but additional money on top. Such arbitrary decisions, which give a preferential position to Sinn Féin, create anger and frustration.

Sinn Féin talks about equality, but is not interested in equality. Sinn Féin is interested only in patronage and preferential treatment. Despite its references to equality, the Belfast Agreement entrenched and increased cultural inequality — in fact, the agreement’s section on equality is a prime example of inequality, as illustrated by the difference in funding between the Ulster-Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge. Since the creation of cross-border bodies, there has been a massive differential in the level of funding of the two cross-border language bodies, and year-on-year that differential increases. It has been suggested — and I have heard this from the former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Michael McGimpsey — that the Ulster-Scots Agency was unable to spend its budget. That is a somewhat disingenuous comment, because from the time of the Belfast Agreement, there has been a substantial need within the Ulster-Scots community for funding for its projects and programmes. The problem did not lie with the Ulster-Scots community but with the way in which the agency was operated. It was also the result of Government policy.

11.15 am

A report that I submitted is included in the Com­mittee’s report. It is a copy of an internal Government memo that dates from before devolution, when the old Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) directed language and cultural policy. It was the Government’s social engineering unit. In that memo, the Government set out how, on one hand, they wanted to depoliticise language, but, for political reasons, would give con­cessions on the Irish language to encourage Sinn Féin. At the same time, they would hinder the development of Ulster-Scots and, therefore, deny equality. The programme set out how that would be done. The policy shaped the cultural element of the Belfast Agreement. That is why it was such an unfair document.

The legacy of that discriminatory policy remains. In 2006, the budget for the two language bodies meant that for every £1 that was given to the Ulster-Scots Agency, Foras na Gaeilge received £6. In one year, that disparity amounts to around £10 million, which continues year-on-year. Moreover, the Ulster-Scots Agency has to pick up the tab for educational and other projects that Government Departments, such as the Department of Education, should fund but fail to.

Cultural equality requires much more than money. There is also the issue of broadcasting. The BBC provides extensive broadcasting in Irish and gives extensive coverage to Gaelic sports. The treatment of other cultural traditions, however, in particular Ulster Scots, has been paltry and sporadic. The BBC has deliberately attempted to conceal that. When it reported to the Council of Europe, it did so in such a way that was so misleading as to be dishonest. Indeed, the BBC eventually had to submit an amended report to the Council of Europe. That discrimination in language broadcasting, which is symptomatic of a deeper problem in the BBC, continues.

I am glad that the Committee managed to reach agreement on one issue, which was that of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out specific cultural rights for children and young people and puts those in the context of the education system. Those rights are implemented across some of the education sectors, in particular the Irish-medium sector, which is based on Irish cultural tradition, and the Roman Catholic-maintained sector, which also has an Irish cultural ethos. The cultural identity of schoolchildren in those sectors is affirmed through teaching and learning. However, in many controlled-sector schools, there is a different approach to cultural rights. As a result, children from unionist and Protestant homes, the vast majority of whom attend schools in that sector, are denied the cultural rights that the Irish-medium and Roman Catholic-maintained sectors have by a significant margin.

I am glad that the Committee agreed to call on the Department of Education to initiate a programme of work so that the cultural rights of children, as set out in the charter, are implemented and monitored across all sectors. That will require guidance for school governors, appropriate training for teachers and the production of school resources. The overall responsibility for the implementation and monitoring of those rights lies with the Department. I hope that, in the light of that broad agreement, the Department of Education will face up to its responsibility. Whatever the culture in the home, whether it be Ulster-Scots culture or orange culture, children have a right to learn about that culture at school, just as other children have a right to learn about Irish culture.

I want to mention two aspects of cultural tourism and two organisations that are involved in its development and promotion. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has the role of product development for tourism, but it has treated cultures other than Irish culture in a shoddy and shabby way and has failed to recognise their potential in the development of Northern Ireland’s cultural tourism product.

International marketing is the role of Tourism Ireland. There is a vast potential market in America among the 20 million Scots-Irish Americans, just as there is an equally vast market among a similar number of Irish Americans. Only recently has Tourism Ireland taken its first tentative steps to look at that Scots-Irish American market. Northern Ireland’s product development through the Tourist Board and the international market must be reviewed and reshaped to ensure that all its cultural divisions have a place within the cultural tourism industry and, through that diversity, ensure the product differentiation that is necessary in the marketplace.

The divisive nature of various aspects of Gaelic culture must also be considered. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is the governing body for Gaelic sports. It is unique among sports’ governing bodies in that political aspirations and a political agenda are built into its constitution.

That agenda is nationalist, and that is why grounds, clubs and competitions are often named after republican heroes. A primary school in west Belfast has even named its club in honour of Bobby Sands. That sets him up as a role model for children.

During the recent debacle when Sinn Féin staged a rally in Casement Park, Francie Brolly defended his party’s position by saying that he did not understand how representatives from the GAA could say that it was not a political organisation. Casement Park was named after Roger Casement, not due to his hurling skills, but due to the fact that he was a republican icon. The old IRA paraded at the opening of Casement Park in 1953.

I urge the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the Community Relations Council to work with the GAA to address the issue and to depoliticise the sport, shed the political baggage and become a genuinely sporting organisation like others in Northern Ireland.

Some items in the report deal with the differential in the voluntary sector’s capacity in the two communities, unionist and nationalist. There are some issues that recent reports from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action have attempted to disguise. I am glad that there is also agreement for a non-lottery funding source for those who have difficulty in securing lottery money for moral reasons.

The Committee on the Preparation for Government was asked to scope issues that needed to be addressed. We did that, but there was no agreement. There is a range of issues that the Government have tried to ignore and put on the long finger, but equality delayed is equality denied. We are not looking for concessions, but for equality.

Madam Speaker: Mr McCausland, your time is up.

Mr Nesbitt: I shall primarily address equality and human rights issues, and my colleague Mr Hussey will address the equally important subject of victims.

Recently, CAJ — a body that has had much to say on equality over the years — launched a report entitled ‘Equality in Northern Ireland: The Rhetoric and the Reality’. The first sentence of the report states:

“Issues of equality and non-discrimination have fed and fuelled the conflict in Northern Ireland over the decades.”

Much has been written to support the notion that equality and rights have been central to the problems in Northern Ireland. Therefore I welcome the motion. It is important that we discuss this matter, but I regret that Sinn Féin is absent.

Equality and human rights are sensitive topics. As Sir Walter Scott said:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

I see much deceit in the equality statements. I am also struck by the comment attributed to Benjamin Disraeli:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

If you combine statistics with a tangled web, you end up with a sensitive issue called “equality”. What can we say about it today with reasonable objectivity? Prof Eithne McLaughlin and Neil Faris were appointed to conduct a review of equality policy in Northern Ireland. They concluded that Northern Ireland was internationally unique in that it has one of the most rigorous, strenuous and legalistic equality processes anywhere in the democratic world. An article in ‘The Irish Times’ some time ago described Northern Ireland as the consultation capital of the world, such is the intrusive nature of the equality agenda in our society.

In the preparation for Government in 1997, it was concluded that the consultation was required as there was a lack of employment opportunity and a need to promote equality and to combat discrimination. Indeed, the Queen’s Speech of 14 May 1997 heralded that the new Government would take measures to combat discrimination in the workplace.

There is a clear motive for Government policy and section 75 to show the need for equality of opportunity, equality impact assessments and equality schemes. How do we know whether there is equality? UNISON and CAJ, the two bodies that organised last Friday’s seminar, said that the unemployment differential was a clear measure of discrimination and must be addressed. The SDLP and Sinn Féin were also clear about that. In the booklet published last week, CAJ said that success in eliminating the unemployment differential was the acid test of the commitment to equality. It remarked that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and Invest Northern Ireland (INI) had not delivered on the equality com­mitment to eliminate the unemployment differential.

I do not want to get into statistics, but I want to place on record my belief that the argument put forward by CAJ in the 1990s, and in the booklet published last week, are based on fundamentally flawed statistics and cannot be used as an measurement tool to assess whether Government are delivering on policy. I challenge CAJ today. Why? I do so because, three times over the summer, I wrote to that organisation about a wider human rights issue — I still await a response. I presented a 30-page statistical analysis to the Committee and during meetings, I challenged parties, particularly Sinn Féin and the SDLP, to meet with me to discuss the issues. I am still waiting for a response.

Mr Robert McCartney: Will the Member give way?

Mr Nesbitt: If I give way, will I be allowed extra time? Yes.

Mr Robert McCartney: Does the hon Member agree that Sir Robert Cooper and other members of the Fair Employment Agency (FEA) repeatedly confirmed that discrimination and lack of equality were absolutely minimal factors in any disparity between Catholic and Protestant unemployment?

Mr Nesbitt: The evidence shows that those had no direct relevance whatsoever to the unemployment rates in the 1990s.

It is annoying that Sinn Féin said that I have a “flat earth” policy, and an SDLP member said that my writings on the matter rival the best-selling book, ‘How to lie with statistics’. Those who made such statements should step up to the plate and discuss the matter with me.

I recognise disadvantage in Northern Ireland, and I have always said that it must be addressed. However, let us be honest with ourselves about some of the data. Let us take the example of INI and the report it published yesterday. Of course, there is more assistance to the east than to the west, but there is a greater population in the east than in the west. In fact, spending on assistance per head of population is much higher in the west, at £1,273, than it is in the east, where it is £1,200. Similarly, more is spent on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the west than in the east.

CAJ cited the fact that far more is spent in South Belfast than in West Belfast. However, 30% of the spend in South Belfast was put towards centres of excellence at Queen’s University to enable more research to be carried out. As Dr McDonnell pointed out two weeks ago, such research will not only benefit South Belfast, but all of Northern Ireland.

People often use parliamentary constituencies as a comparator for employment figures. However, that is not a good comparator — travel-to-work areas often cut across parliamentary boundaries.

Of the 37 foreign companies investing in Northern Ireland, 74% were in New TSN areas, almost matching the target of 75%.

The Government are silent on the issue. They crouch so low below the parapet that they are virtually non-existent. They need to step up to the plate and make it clear that the analysis of the 1990s was wrong and that there is equality of opportunity in recruitment. An FEA booklet provides evidence of that, using the benchmark of social mobility and showing that in the 1990s — at the very time when the Government set out to combat discrimination — religious base had no bearing on recruitment. Regrettably, the UK Government have failed to come up to the mark — never mind the foreign Governments that you, Madam Speaker, have asked us not to mention.

I turn now to human rights. We have had a conflict in Northern Ireland. Often, in addressing that conflict, international standards are mentioned. We must under­stand and observe human rights; that is a central plank of a modern democratic society. However, when war broke out in the Middle East this summer, Dermot Ahern said that Israel must abide by international law. On 18 July, he maintained that Israel must abide “strictly” by that law. The Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for the Middle East Kim Howells, and even Sinn Féin have said the same: Israel must abide by international law.

11.30 am

Sinn Féin often waxes eloquent on what should be done abroad. In the Committee on the Preparation for Government, I challenged Sinn Féin members to tell me whether their party would subscribe to the principles of international human rights law in the context of Northern Ireland. The answer I received was fudged; it was no answer. When Gerry Adams went to the Middle East, he spoke of principles that applied not only to the Middle East, but to Northern Ireland. He stated that there should be respect for human rights and international law. I put it to Sinn Féin in Committee, and I say again today, that if Sinn Féin had respect for human rights and international law, this would not be a shadow Assembly but a full and functioning one.

Sinn Féin walks the world stage pretending to be moderate, modern and internationalist. It pretends to champion human rights. However, at the very core of that party is a form of aggressive nationalism and a lack of respect for the institutions of state that has been rejected everywhere in the democratic world.

Where are the Government? They have made an interesting statement. They have asked Sinn Féin to draw a distinction between constitutional and practical policing; at one stroke, the Government have undermined their commitments to international obligations. They are playing fast and loose with the democratic values needed to underpin any stable settlement in Northern Ireland. With regard to human rights and equality, stark questions must be asked.

How is it that the UK Government expect unionists and nationalists to sit in an Administration with Sinn Féin, when they themselves have undermined the necessary ingredients for a stable, functioning Admin­istration to exist in Northern Ireland? I am being penalised because Sinn Féin does not abide by standards of international democratic practice. The party I represent signs up to all these standards; Sinn Féin does not.

Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said that all in our country are to play by the rules. The United Kingdom is a member of both the Council of Europe and the European Union. When one is in a club, one plays by the rules. However, the United Kingdom Government are not playing by the rules, and Mr Brown’s statement is not relevant to Northern Ireland.

I read thoroughly the words that were carefully crafted by Dr Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, and, I regret to say, they did not match up to the international standards that are meant to apply in a democracy.

Mr Robert McCartney: What did he say?

Mr Nesbitt: I have said all that I wish to say in 14 minutes.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Nesbitt: I have been asked to tell what the archbishop said, and I will do that in the minute of my time that remains. I request some latitude, because Mr McCartney has requested that I tell the House what the archbishop said. He said that those people who tolerate criminality are incompatible with those who have responsibility for Government. That implies that if one does not have a responsibility, the toleration can be wavered. He also said that where there is a commitment to the institutions of policing, there should not be a problem in the formation of the Government, especially if that Government do not have policing responsibility. Dr Brady’s implication there is that we should form the Government now, and the commit­ment will be given and then, possibly, delivered.

My problem, Madam Speaker, and I finish on this —

Madam Speaker: Mr Nesbitt, your time is over.

Mr Nesbitt: Will you not give me another 30 seconds to respond to Mr McCartney?

Madam Speaker: Mr Nesbitt, your time is up.

Ms Lewsley: I preface my contribution by thanking the Committee Clerks for the hard work, commitment and professionalism they showed during the PFG Committee meetings, and for the endurance that they demonstrated during the debate about two boxes, particularly. I also thank the Hansard staff for their professionalism and commitment, especially con­sidering that it was the summer holidays and the team was 12 short.

The fact that all the parties got round an oblong table — not a round table — at the beginning of the proceedings was progress, as was their achieving consensus on nine proposals or basic principles. Sadly, that consensus was turned into censorship by Sinn Féin just over a week ago when it vetoed the opportunity for many of the political parties — including some of its own members who attended the meetings during the summer and who gave their time and commitment, none less than the late Michael Ferguson — to engage in this debate, and, worse, the right to have the report printed. Sinn Féin’s excuse for that action was that it was not taking part in any Hain talking shop. However, in the comprehensive agreement, that same party, along with the DUP, agreed to a shadow Assembly that was nothing more than a Hain talking shop.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I will touch on many of the issues that were debated in the PFG Committee. The issues debated in the Committee were not contributory to suspension, and, therefore, should not be viewed as preconditions to the restoration of the Assembly and its institutions.

The first proposal or basic principle agreed by the PFG Committee was the need for a bill of rights. All parties in the Committee agreed to follow agreement on that proposal with a half-day seminar on 5 October 2006, which will be facilitated by the Human Rights Com­mission, and that must be seen as progress. The SDLP, like many other parties, wants to see the best possible bill of rights for Northern Ireland, one which reflects socio-economic rights as well as political rights.

Above all, we want a bill of rights that everyone in Northern Ireland can buy into, so that rights are not solely for nationalists or for unionists but for every individual. The best way to reach agreement on a bill of rights is through a round-table forum that involves the political parties and civic society. The chairperson of that forum should be someone of international standing, appointed by the two Governments, and able to choose his or her own independent secretariat.

The round-table forum should report its findings to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which, in turn, should report to the Secretary of State. The Human Rights Commission should also, at the request of the chairperson, contribute to the round-table discussions. The SDLP would like that round-table forum to be set up straight away. Members should remember that the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed, as part of the comprehensive agreement, that that forum should be set up.

We, and many other parties, have lobbied direct-rule Ministers, past and present, to get the round-table forum up and running. While the SDLP supports a bill of rights for Northern Ireland, we also want to see an all-Ireland charter of rights, which would be at the cutting edge of rights in Europe. It is also important that any future Administration engage the help of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to rights-proof any policies and legislation throughout all Government Departments.

I want to make three points on equality, the first of which is the issue of need. The Good Friday Agreement is clear that need must be targeted objectively. If real need is targeted, all communities — Catholic or Protestant, unionist or nationalist, or from any other background — will be enhanced. There is also an opportunity for perceived need to be dealt with.

I know that there is educational underachievement in Protestant communities. The SDLP believes that, by tackling that need, that issue will be addressed. However, the proportion of Catholics who leave school with no qualifications is higher overall, and that is a fast track to unemployment. Therefore, it is important that that prob­lem also be tackled on the basis of need. I welcome the proposal on that matter that was agreed by the Committee.

Secondly, there can be no regression in equality laws. Those laws are a given, and the SDLP will consider opportunities to enhance them. However, we will not support any dilution of those laws. An integrated equality agenda is needed, and that should be brought about through a single equality Bill that harmonises our laws upwards as far as practicable. During the lifetime of the previous Assembly, its two junior Ministers hoped to take Northern Ireland into the lead with a single equality Bill. Unfortunately, because of EU regulations on age and sexual orientation, the Assembly had to defer that Bill. I hope that that matter can now be moved forward.

Equality of opportunity can be created through the realisation of the promise of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. In order to do that, the standard of equality impact assessments must be improved. Often, they lack statistics and rigour, and they should place greater focus on key policies. A strategy for the implementation of section 75 would be helpful.

Thirdly, the commitment to the eradication of unemployment differentials referred to in the agree­ment must be realised. The unemployment differential in 1971 was 2·5; it has now been brought down to 1·8. I want any differential to be eradicated.

Mr Nesbitt: Will the Member accept a point of information?

Ms Lewsley: Yes.

Mr Nesbitt: Between 2·5 and 1·8, the employment differential was as low as 1·6, and is now up to 2·1. It moves and varies over time. There are two ways of measuring the unemployment differential: one is a ratio, and one is an absolute gap. I support the latter and not the former, which is statistically flawed.

Madam Speaker: There is no such thing as a point of information, Mr Nesbitt. However, I am sure that Ms Lewsley accepts your comments.

Ms Lewsley: I gave way to what I regarded as an intervention.

As with unemployment, there are differentials in economic activity. There are many unemployment black spots, especially west of the Bann. A process to deal with those problems must be introduced, and the Government must also take responsibility centrally to ensure that differentials in housing allocations are dealt with.

11.45 am

Progress has been made; however, there is more to do. As well as being a right in principle, equality of opportunity will help to build a more harmonious and cohesive community.

Creating a shared future is the purpose of any peace process and is about equal citizenship and human rights for all. All public goods, services and facilities should be accessible to everyone. A shared future should be about living, working and playing together. When making policy, a new Executive must take account of ‘A Shared Future’ and give it their full support.

As things stand, those who are intimidated, rather than the perpetrators of that intimidation, are moved on. It matters that people are frightened when they go through our city and town centres at night and that flags and murals — and, more recently, football regalia — intimidate people. Such attacks cannot be justified, nor can the failure to reach political agreement.

‘A Shared Future’ cannot be seen as a small, side policy; it must be a major structure of Government. That means opposing all forms of sectarianism and taking a firm stand against all that is said and done in a sectarian way, rather than explaining, minimising or making excuses for sectarianism. It means removing flags from all public properties.

The Committee heard about the building blocks of ‘A Shared Future’. There are many such building blocks; for example, good relations. Good relations must be the mainstay of central Government and their Departments, as it must be of our current councils and the new ones that will emerge from the Review of Public Administration (RPA). Good relations should be implemented as a key part of section 75 alongside the new power-sharing arrangements that will promote working partnerships when the RPA is put in place. Good-relations committees have been set up in most councils; however, a few have yet to be established, some are working while many are not, and some are paying lip service to the idea. All our councils must reach a standard, and it is particularly important that political parties on councils sign up to the concept of good relations and ensure its delivery.

In trying to reach a compromise, we need to under­stand respect and diversity. As I said, good relations can help to achieve that. We have talked for a long time about a shared future, and it is time that we made that talk a reality.

The SDLP believes that, on a moral basis, we must leave the past behind. There is a danger in our society if we do not face up to that past. Moreover, it is deeply unfair to deny victims the truth, if that is what they seek. It is also important that the language used is more sensitive to the needs of victims and survivors. The very least that those people should expect from us is the acknowledgement of their terrible loss and a commit­ment to ensure that they do not carry the burden of remembering on their own.

More can, and must, be done to address the needs of victims and survivors of conflict. As we rebuild our society, they struggle to rebuild their lives. The SDLP wants a greater platform for victims so that their needs can be articulated and their stories heard and acknow­ledged. It wants to ensure that any process for dealing with the past is victim-centred. That is why my party supports the role of the Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, although the manner of the appointment of the person in that post was unfortunate. My party also supports the establishment of a victims’ and survivors’ forum.

The Committee agreed the proposal to make victims’ needs a priority in the Programme for Government. Through that, we will have the opportunity to address how services for victims can be improved and better compensation payments given to those who have received little or nothing. Funding has often been mentioned. Only last night, those in a meeting of a victims’ group in north Belfast asked why £3·3 million has been given to loyalist communities to remove murals from walls, given that that group often finds itself scraping around for funding to help victims. The entire sector needs more focused funding. Funding should be more flexible, as some victims are now elderly and their needs may have changed. For example, they may have mental health issues or problems with dementia.

A strong monitoring role is needed to oversee how money is spent and to assess its impact. That should be reviewed regularly to ensure that the funding targets those most in need.

Victims have told me that the restoration of the Assembly is important, as it would give them the opportunity to talk more freely about the issues that concern them, as well as greater access to Government. Any future Government should ensure that victims’ needs are centred, rather than policy-driven, so that those needs are taken into consideration. Services must be monitored and matched to need. The Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors could carry out that monitoring role.

The commissioner’s office should be a one-stop shop where victims can get direction on the issue that concerns them. Services must be equitable across Northern Ireland and across all age ranges. I commend the commissioner on her latest report, ‘A Forum for Victims & Survivors: Consultation Responses’, which is a summary of feedback from consultation seminars on the role and purpose of victims’ and survivors’ forums. It represents the voices of victims and survivors, not that of the commissioner.

Lastly, Madam Speaker, I would like to address the issue of the disappeared. The British Government recently responded to a series of recommendations on the disappeared made by the independent Commissioner for the Location of Victims’ Remains. Although that announcement is welcome, it is long overdue. The SDLP has already expressed its concerns about the delay and is pleased to see the commitment being made at last that there will be a liaison officer for the families; the Committee agreed that in principle.

There must be a renewed will to find the bodies. Some people mistakenly believe that everything that can be done has been done; that is simply not true. No amount of good work by Governments will make up for the lack of co-operation shown by those in the IRA or INLA who were involved in those terrible crimes in the first place. Their victims’ lives and bodies were stolen. If the perpetrators have any conscience at all, they must do everything they can to ensure that they do not rob the families of a Christian burial.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Ford: I join Ms Lewsley in expressing thanks to the staff of the Committee, the co-chairpersons, and the important people such as Hansard and the catering services who kept the work flowing over the summer.

Madam Speaker, the debate is supposed to be on a report of the Committee on the Preparation for Govern­ment. That Government will by necessity involve power sharing, so it is regrettable that much of the debate so far has actually concentrated on accusations in one direction or another about equality issues. Mr McCausland’s speech was almost entirely about equality — or rather, his perception of Protestant inequality. He was backed up by Mr Nesbitt, who devoted almost all of his speech to the same topic. Ms Lewsley countered with her version of statistics, in a speech which at least covered rather more than the single issue of equality. It seems that the statisticians will have much work to do, and also, given the reaction in the Chamber, that it does not matter what they say, as we each have a set of inbuilt prejudices.

Mr Nesbitt: Will Mr Ford give way for a moment?

Mr Ford: Oh, give us a chance. [Laughter.]

Mr Nesbitt: Will he?

Mr Ford: I think that it is customary, Madam Speaker, that Members are allowed at least to start to develop their argument before being asked to give way. I would have thought that an experienced former Minister like Mr Nesbitt would be aware of precedent.

The equality section of the report also talks extensively about a shared future. One of the more interesting points of debate was between Michael Ferguson and the Alliance Party as to whether the issue of a shared future was solely about equality. The Alliance Party believes that it clearly is not. An enormous amount of work needs to be done — the debate this morning has proved just how much — to change mindsets and start to build a shared future.

I do not believe that there would be any stability in the institutions that we are seeking to restore by 24 November if we did not also actively work to build a shared future. Community relations is not an add-on to be done by nice people in their spare time. If we cannot establish good relations in every Government institution and build a shared future in every aspect of the working of this Assembly and the institutions that depend on it, ultimately there is no chance that the process that we are engaged in will succeed.

It is, of course, unfortunate that the devolved Executive were unable to make any progress prior to suspension on the shared future agenda. We were promised that the publication of the report was imminent several times, but we depended on direct-rule Ministers to take that forward.

Now is the time when we must turn the general statement of a commitment to build a shared future, contained in paragraph 23 of the report, into a meaning­ful commitment to address the issues. We must first address the issues of the way in which Members arrived in this place. We must get away from the notion that Northern Ireland is a society neatly divided into two antagonistic communities with no connection between them, each of which is completely homogenous inter­nally. That was never correct, and it is certainly less and less correct as society changes, yet this society continues to bear the huge costs — economic, financial, social and political — of trying to maintain a society as if that were the case.

The simple reality is that, economically, we cannot afford to waste £1 billion a year on managing segregation. As a community that needs to be modern, forward-looking, outgoing and welcoming to visitors — whether they be tourists or those wishing to set up businesses — we cannot afford the cost of neglecting that need, while maintaining segregation and division.

Although I welcome the fact that parties gave a commitment to building a shared future, it is a matter of considerable regret that the Committee was unable to achieve the consensus to sign up to the specific documents: the ‘A Shared Future’ framework document; and even the first triennial action plan. I cannot under­stand how Members can carry out their commitments to build a shared future unless they are prepared to work on the basis of the available documentation.

I keep thinking, Madam Speaker, that Mr Nesbitt is about to take the opportunity to intervene.

Mr Nesbitt: Shall I do it now?

Mr Ford: Certainly. The Member was shuffling his papers.

Mr Nesbitt: I was passing something back to my colleague; it was nothing to do with this.

When I invited any or all the parties around the table to enter discussions, they did not respond. Alliance was one of those parties, and it too has not responded. I am more than happy to discuss any statistical dimension with Mr Ford and to try to reach an objective conclusion. However, I am afraid that Alliance, like the other parties, said no, and that it did not want to talk.

Ms Lewsley: We did not say no. We have not got around to replying.

Mr McCarthy: We never say no.

Mr Ford: My colleague has spoken for the Alliance Party, as has Patricia Lewsley for the SDLP. The timing priorities, while the Committee was working so hard, perhaps countered the opportunities for the delights of further discussion on employment and equality, such as I had on one occasion that I remember, on a particular sunny morning in Hillsborough some years ago. I have no doubt that Mr Nesbitt will be his usual informed and erudite self, and I look forward to those discussions, perhaps around the environs of a golf course in Scotland shortly.

I wish to consider the wider issue of the past and its legacy. There is a mood within this society that it is dangerous to talk about the past, that that is counter-productive to attempts to move forward, and that to do so opens wounds. However, all that we know about seeking the healing that individuals require, and the reconciliation that this society needs, is that we must deal with the wounds of the past in a comprehensive and holistic fashion. We must provide a measure of closure to those who have suffered more than others. If we cannot do that, we will again threaten the possibility of making progress.

There have been far too many piecemeal events in the past. Indeed, the rather unfortunate manner of the appointment of the Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors was an example of that. I welcome the work that Mrs McDougall has been doing; my party has met her, and I believe that she is doing the job to the best of her ability. However, the manner of her appointment gave her a profoundly difficult start, which was most unhelpful.

We need to look at a variety of options in an open way and not always retreat into the immediate holes that people retreat into when difficulties arise. Is there scope for some form of memorial? There is almost certainly not scope for a physical memorial — that might create too many difficulties. However, a day of remembrance or reflection might enable individuals, in their own ways and in whatever company they feel content and safe, to think back over the suffering of the entire community.

12.00 noon

We need to find a way to allow victims to put their stories on the record. Clearly, we will never have a South-African style truth and reconciliation commission, but people should at least be given that opportunity. It would help them to define how they felt and how they suffered, and it would allow them to experience the healing that having their stories recognised by the wider community would bring.

Although it would be extremely difficult, maybe we could consider a wider truth and recovery process. There are international precedents that we need to consider. There is a real need for the Government to take that measure on board, perhaps in conjunction with an incoming Executive. Doing so would ensure that, instead of just talking about what needs to be done and having occasional debates, we would be engaging in a wider process that would enable that to happen.

It is clear that a large number of victims still suffer in this society. I wish to highlight two groups in particular. The first is the families of the disappeared, who still suffer from not having Christian burial sites to which they can go to visit their loved ones. There is no doubt that, even after all these years, more could and should be done. Since my election as a constituency representative, one of the most moving experiences has been my visit to the house of a constituent to attend the wake — it was 30 years late — for his mother, Jean McConville, and my attendance at her funeral a few days later. To some extent, that family’s suffering has been eased, but other families are still suffering in silence, and we should never forget them.

The second group that we must remember are the exiles: those who remain outside Northern Ireland because of threats, fears of threats, and because the practice of exiling certain groups and people is not over. We must ensure that, in any attempt to move forward and to address the needs of victims, we remember those who are active victims, as well as those who are victims because of events that occurred years ago.

I urge unionists, who seem to be prepared to countenance a day of remembrance, to consider seriously whether it is a possibility. It does not need to be an event that, for particular reasons, their political opponents could easily hijack.

Finally, I want to consider human rights and the proposed bill of rights for Northern Ireland. My party has supported the introduction of such legislation for a long time. I believe that historians have recorded that, as long ago as 1962, in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, the Liberal MP for Queen’s University, Sheelagh Murnaghan, proposed such a measure in this Chamber. The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights went some way, but, as a document from 1948, it is somewhat out of date. It solely covers civil and political rights; it does not deal with the social and economic rights that concern us so much now. Therefore, we need action to address the bill of rights.

We need action from the parties in the Assembly and from civil society to work with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) — the body that has the formal statutory duty — to draw up an appropriate Northern Ireland bill of rights. There is precedent in European and international work. There is much that could be drawn on. We need to encourage NIHRC in its work by participation in a round-table format. It is to be hoped that our meeting with NIHRC in October will enable us to move forward on that process, to establish the round table, to tease out the areas of agreement and disagreement, and to make a constructive input to the work of NIHRC, as it makes its proposals to the Secretary of State.

Earlier, Patricia Lewsley referred to the belief that the SDLP has in human rights for every individual. I endorse that, but let us be clear that that means human rights for everyone as an individual. It refers to the rights of people who belong to minorities, and to the rights of those people who choose not to define them­selves as belonging to groups into which others may wish to place them. It is not a matter of a bipolar society’s looking at the balance of two groups. It is the right, which is in line with modern European and international legislation, to assert the rights of each and every individual to ensure that each and every individual has the same rights and abilities to make the most of his or her opportunities in this society.

Mr Robert McCartney: I am grateful to the Member for giving way. The Member has stressed rightly, along with Mrs Lewsley, that these rights are individual.

That being the case, what about the rights of those individual applicants to the PSNI who come from the unionist or Protestant community? They, as individuals, are discriminated against by Order.

Mr Ford: I thank the Member for making the Alliance Party’s point using a somewhat unionist form of language.

The issue for the Alliance Party is not whether unionists or Protestants are discriminated against in their applications to join the Police Service. Rather than simply designate on the basis of religious belief, affirmative action must be taken to encourage the widest possible recruitment from every section of this society. To get the best possible Police Service, each and every individual should have the right to apply.

Mr Kennedy: Therefore the Member supports discrimination?

Mr Ford: It would help if the deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party learned to listen rather than to interrupt.

We should not impose quotas, which are based on an inappropriate way of dividing up this society. We should take affirmative action to ensure that we attract people to apply to the Police Service, and then ensure that the best possible people are recruited.

Mr Nesbitt: Will the Member give way?

Mr Ford: No. I do not have much time in which to give way. The Member has already had his one go.

I welcome the report, because it records that there has been progress on a number of items. However, on reading the report, and especially when one reads Hansard, it is clear that a vast amount of work remains to be done, particularly on building a shared future, meeting victims’ needs and building a culture of human rights for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Mr Dawson: My colleague Mr McCausland covered a wide range of issues that appear in the report. I take this opportunity to associate myself with his comments.

I shall focus on one of the equality issues that comes out of the report — section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I welcome Mr Nesbitt’s comments, and his analysis of the equality issues debated in the Preparation for Government Committee, but I remind him that, in agreeing to and accepting the section 75 provisions as part of the Belfast Agreement, and as part of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that flowed from the agreement, his party compounded the problem.

Mr Nesbitt: Will the Member give way?

Mr Dawson: I shall perhaps give way to the Member later. Let me develop my comments in line with precedent, as Mr Ford reminded the Member.

Ms Lewsley has spoken about section 75 in glowing terms. On this side of the House, section 75 of the 1998 Act is seen as a charter for the persecution of those who hold to a Christian world view. Section 75 establishes equivalence in the name of equality among groups for which no equivalence exists. For example, individuals have no choice over their race or their disability, but all individuals have a choice about whether they wish to engage in a homosexual lifestyle.

It should be remembered that section 75’s remit goes much further than simply equality of employment; equality, for the categories listed in section 75, must be promoted in every aspect of Government policy. It is there that section 75 goes much too far. Section 75’s approach to sexual orientation springs from the false notion, which the gay lobby promotes as an agenda item, that homosexuality is healthy, natural and normal. In fact, it is none of those things.

From that false basis, section 75 has delivered to Northern Ireland an industry of paper production and report writing, much of which has little relevance to the whole community and adds nothing to our country’s economic well-being. In fact, it deters inward investment from many organisations.

I said at the outset that section 75 is a charter for the persecution of Christians. Section 75 requires that individuals promote equality of opportunity among the named groups.

There can be no disagreement that equality of opportunity should be promoted on the grounds of race, gender, disability, politics, religion, and so forth. However, those categories and the category of sexual orientation clearly differ. Given that the categories listed in the Act are used to screen every Government policy, and that there is a responsibility to promote equality, Christians in government and in local authorities are being asked to promote an agenda and a lifestyle that they find morally and ethically repugnant, unacceptable and contrary to their religious beliefs. It is not acceptable that, in the name of equality, the religious beliefs of the majority of the population in Northern Ireland, from the two main traditions, are being undermined on the subject of homosexual practice.

Let me illustrate my point with a few examples. During the debates on civil partnership in Northern Ireland, many councillors, because of the provisions of section 75, were unable to resist the creation of a false equivalence between marriage and civil partnership. Those provisions mean that the groups listed under section 75 must have access to exactly the same facilities as those who want to marry in council chambers. Councillors were systematically bullied into offering council facilities to those who wanted civil partner­ships, including the marriage suites and full ceremonies. Let me put it on record again: there is no equivalence between marriage and civil partnership. There is no justification for forcing councils to treat marriage and civil partnership as being equal. In those debates on civil partnership, the deeply held religious and moral views of councillors were trampled on and ignored in the interests of equality.

I want to refer to the attitude of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to Christians on its staff. A report jointly commissioned by the Police Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Policing Board, ‘Policing, Accountability and the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community in Northern Ireland’, states that police officers must not display homophobic attitudes. We have been told that police officers are always on duty; there is never an occasion when a police officer is off duty. The Ombudsman has confirmed to me that a police officer who is a lay preacher or a Sunday school teacher who decides to preach on Genesis, chapter 19, Romans, chapter 1, or First Corinthians, chapter 6, would be guilty, in the eyes of the law, of expressing a homophobic attitude and would be subject to discipline. It is unacceptable that freedom of speech and an individual’s beliefs are curtailed in this way in the name of equality.

The view of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is that the home and property of a school governor would be at risk if he or she allowed his or her religious views on homosexuality to influence the decisions that he or she might take on a school board. Councillors are voting and acting against their conscience, policemen and policewomen are unable to express their religious views, and teachers and governors on school boards are under threat of having their homes seized. That is the equality under which we live in Northern Ireland.

However, it does not end there. Consultation ended yesterday on proposals to outlaw sexual-orientation discrimination in the provision of goods and services. If the proposals are accepted in their current form, churches will be guilty of an offence if they do not allow their church halls to be used by gay and lesbian groups or do not allow their property to be sold to such a group if it happened to be for sale. Christian owners of bed-and-breakfast accommodation will have to put up gay and lesbian couples under their own roofs. Schools will become battlegrounds about gay lifestyles, and Christian teachers will be forced to promote the gay agenda in classrooms, against their conscience and beliefs.

Scripture unions could be banned from schools for being anti-gay. Bible colleges, care homes, adoption agencies, Christian conference centres — the list goes on — would be required to offer double-bed accommodation to gays and lesbians who present themselves at the door.

12.15 pm

Laws that are promoted in the name of equality are attacking, undermining and destroying the rights and beliefs of ordinary Christian people. That cannot be right; it cannot be allowed to continue. That is equality gone mad. It is not equality; it is the dictatorship of a vocal minority, inflicted on the morality of the people, with no sound basis.

While section 75 remains in place in its current form, Christian moral attitudes will continue to be unacceptable in society and the persecution of Christians will increase. It will not be long before the first pastor or layman finds himself before the courts for holding to the moral teachings of the Bible that he seeks to promote. The irony, of course, will be that in the courthouse —

Dr Birnie: I thank the Member for giving way. Does he not agree that the source of the problem that he identifies may not be section 75 itself, but the current interpretation of European law? In a sense, therefore, section 75 is not all that relevant to his argument. It is European law that is the driver.

Mr Dawson: I thank the Member for that. European law is in place but, as he will know, section 75 goes further than European law in giving rights to Northern Ireland that do not exist in the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, the issues that councils here have faced in relation to civil partnerships have not been faced in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is section 75 that brings those problems to Northern Ireland.

As I was saying, the irony will be that when that pastor or layman goes to court, he will be asked to swear his truthfulness on the Bible from which his attitudes are taken, and the law of the land will oblige him to reject those attitudes.

I wish to turn to the issue of parades, which is also referred to in the report. Members will know that, with colleagues on the joint Loyal Orders working group, I have been engaged since autumn 2005 in seeking to bring about a resolution to the present issues about parading. We have consulted a wide range of stake­holders and a large number of interested parties to present our concerns, seek their views and provide a way forward on the issue. We have worked from the premise that the present arrangements are neither satisfactory nor desirable. The Parades Commission has become the third party in parading disputes. It is not seen as an independent body; indeed, it is not an independent body. Rather, it is contributing to the extent of the conflict and to the division that is seen on our streets over parades.

We have also approached our task in the belief that there is no system or set of procedures that cannot be improved. Any set of rules formulated by man can be improved on. The attitude of our colleagues in the SDLP — which seems to believe that the Parades Commission must be in place, and its procedures continued, because they cannot be improved — is one that we reject.

Now that the summer is over and the immediate objective of ensuring that the season passes peacefully has been achieved, it is time for a fundamental review of the legislation governing parades and of the structures and procedures that flow from it. The Secretary of State is aware of our various proposals. He is aware of a process that could transform the situation. The Secretary of State is always keen to remind Members of this House of the importance of meeting deadlines.

I warn the Secretary of State that his time is ticking away. It is the end of September. If I may paraphrase his words, I am not threatening anyone, but I must point out that there are consequences and dangers in delay. It is time for the Secretary of State to make a choice, and it is time for him to deliver.

The Committee’s report rightly points out that parading has a direct impact on the overall political process. The Secretary of State’s failure to deal with the legitimate grievances of the Loyal Orders will render political accommodation impossible, now and in the future. It is the Secretary of State who holds the key to progress on this matter; it is he who must act. The Secretary of State’s time is running out.

Dr Birnie: I wish to refer to the linked themes of diversity and rights. In this debate, we should concentrate on some of the major impediments and obstacles to the restoration of devolution. The point can be made that an exclusive emphasis on the so-called two communities model of our conflict could be hindering the very necessary move towards peace and prosperity because it fails to allow for the richness and diversity of our society.

Northern Ireland is clearly becoming more diverse. There is a long-established ethnic minority population here. In the early years of this decade, it was probably in the order of 15,000 persons. Since 2004, the arrival of migrant workers, particularly from new European Union member countries, has probably boosted that ethnic minority population by two- or threefold.

It is important to say from the outset that migrant workers have performed a major service to our economy. In the short to medium term, that inward migration has allowed the Northern Ireland economy to continue to grow and not be held back by labour shortages, which might otherwise have become critical.

There are, of course, other important longer-term concerns. For example, why has it been necessary to import so much migrant labour when there are still such large pockets of long-term unemployment? As has been said in previous debates, policy-makers must ask why our own long-term unemployed and economically inactive are either unwilling — or unable, because of the skills they have or do not have — to do certain jobs. A question can also be asked of parts of the Health Service, where there is a preference, perhaps on cost grounds, to bring in staff from third-world countries rather than train local people.

It must be emphasised that, on balance, the arrival of outside labour has been economically beneficial. Sadly, as we well know from reports in the media, even as recently as last weekend, this process has been accompanied by a terrible rise in racist activity. There are up to 1,000 attacks every year, and the number is rising. That is a horrendous total, and the figures have doubled or tripled in a small number of years.

It is probably still true that the rate of racist attacks per head of population is less here than in England. That is from a comparison between PSNI and Home Office figures. There is little solid statistical basis to the claim made by ‘The Guardian’ in January 2004 that Northern Ireland is the race hate capital of Europe. However, we should all redouble our efforts to ensure that that never becomes the case.

A joined-up response is required from Government Departments, agencies and the private sector to welcome migrant workers, to ensure that neither they, nor the more established population, are exploited and to deal with some of the underlying social problems that perhaps are exacerbated, such as housing problems, particularly the ongoing debate about houses of multiple occupation.

The private sector group Concordia has pointed out a number of policies that could be adopted to help to absorb migrant workers into our economy and society. The five political parties at Stormont have formed an ad hoc all-party working group on ethnic minority issues, working with the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), other charities, and non-governmental organisations in that sector.

The Ulster Unionist Party recognises the challenge posed by recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Electoral Commission, which shows that only about 40% of the ethnic minorities here are on the electoral register, and of which only about half have actually voted — barely one in five. That is a challenge for the political parties, and it is also a challenge for the ethnic minorities to engage with the parties in political activity.

My colleague Mr Nesbitt has already referred to human rights, and the issue generates a strong sense of déjà vu. On 25 September 2001, a debate was held in this Chamber on the motion that the NIHRC had exceeded its remit under the Belfast Agreement. The 1998 agree­ment instructed the NIHRC to advise and consult on the scope for human rights, supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Eight years on, the Human Rights Commission has not done that, and it has failed to realise its stated objectives under the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Instead, it has spent its time — some parties, including mine, would argue that it has wasted its time and resources — drafting two versions of a bill of rights, which were grandiose, maximalist and very complex.

It was significant that the PFG Committee with responsibility for rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims agreed in principle that there should be a bill of rights for Northern Ireland, but there was no agreement among the parties as to what should be included in it. Hansard for that meeting of the Committee shows that there was disagreement around the notion of so-called social and economic rights.

Members should wish that every member of our society avails of excellent health services, the best possible standard of education, the cleanest environ­ment in the world and the highest possible wage, etc. However, will a statement of those rights — or alleged rights — in a bill of rights help to achieve any of those very laudable objectives? The productivity of the economy and the level of resources available to both the private and the public sectors determines the adequacy of health care, and who gets an operation and when, not the judgement of judges and lawyers.

The argument against so-called social and economic rights, or at least their enshrining in statements of bills of rights, is extremely old and valid. An argument was made on this island as early as 1791 when the great Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke argued against a statement of human rights coming out of the French Revolution. He said, and rightly so, that if somebody was sick, they turn to a doctor and not to a metaphysical statement of human rights, as that would do no good.

It would seem bizarre for the Assembly to struggle to restore devolution, only to strangle any future Assembly within the straitjacket of an all-encompassing complex bill of rights that would remove discretion from any future Northern Ireland Executive, take decision-making in areas such as health policy, education, the environment, industrial development, etc, out of the hands of elected politicians and hand them over to unelected lawyers and judges.

Someone once argued that the human rights project is politics by another means. If that is so, it is politics in which most of the population are denied the right to vote.

Finally, I shall return to diversity and its relationship to rights. It is a necessary condition for a free society — and I hope that that is what we all want — that sometimes we have to endure the expression of views that we find deeply offensive. Mr Dawson referred to the danger, or perhaps the actuality, of the situation we are now in, that on occasions the freedom to express one’s self, particularly in religious terms, may be infringed.

Sadly, especially in the context of parading — though it does not only occur in that regard — there is the crazy notion that there is some right not to be offended. We have to wake up and realise that in a free society there will be occasions when we, and our views, be they political or religious, will be offended. That is the price of freedom and democracy.

Mr P Ramsey: I wish to make a few comments before I read from my prepared script. Almost a year ago, the Police Service of Northern Ireland introduced clear guidelines, aims, objectives and protocols to deal with homophobic attacks occurring in the Derry City Council area. The circumstances were such that all the political parties on Derry City Council participated in drawing up the guidelines. We wanted to ensure that those people, irrespective of creed, colour or background, had the same fundamental human rights as everyone else.

It was therefore disappointing to hear the comments of the Member for East Antrim Mr Dawson. He has a right to those opinions —

12.30 pm

Mr Dawson: Will the Member give way?

Mr P Ramsey: No — I wish to develop my argument. Mr Dawson had eight or nine minutes to talk about homophobia. I shall spend a few minutes talking about homophobic attacks in my constituency. Whether it is a young lady from Antrim who is a lesbian, or a young man from the Bogside who is gay, both have every right to be a part of our society, and no one should intimate that they be excluded in any way.

In general, the debate to date has been very good. I support David Ford’s idea of a day of reflection and reconciliation. A good opportunity will present itself next year when two distinctive events will take place commemorating the Plantation of Ulster and the Flight of the Earls. We should ensure that one of those days is used as a basis for helping people towards reconciliation. I do not have any difficulty supporting that.

Patricia Lewsley made the point that the discussions by the Preparation for Government Committee on rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims did not play a part in the suspension of the Executive and the Assembly. Therefore, they should not be used by any party as a precondition for restoration. They should be a priority for a Programme for Government after the restoration of the Assembly.

All parties reached agreement on several issues in the Committee, but there are many proposals that require further work and discussion. I am delighted that all parties involved in the Committee stressed their commitment to building a shared future. As elected representatives we need to show leadership in our communities. What use is sharing power if we cannot share our streets?

Over the past 20 years in politics, I have been proud of my ability to reach out to the Protestant community in my constituency in Derry. Several years ago, my colleague William Hay and I set out on a course of action as a result of the first phase of the peace programmes. We were instrumental in setting up the Shared City project in Derry. It was obvious that Protestant communities had not taken advantage — and were not in a position to take advantage — of the first phase of funding.

After a major consultation process, visiting and talking to community groups across the city of Derry, Mr Hay and I established that there was a relatively weak community development infrastructure. That had resulted in a lack of confidence, limited capacity, low self-esteem, poor leadership skills, a sense of neglect and isolation, and a perceived disparity of funding in favour of nationalist areas.

The aim of the project was to establish an outreach support programme targeted at marginalised and disadvantaged communities in Protestant areas. It is still in operation, thankfully, and I hope that it will become part of the mainstream within Derry City Council and the Department for Social Development. The project is a model of good practice on increasing capacity, confidence-building measures and addressing the serious alienation and marginalisation that a number of Protestants in Derry still, unfortunately, feel. It should be replicated across Northern Ireland to involve all marginalised communities in civic society.

The Committee agreed that there should, and must, be support for a bill of rights for Northern Ireland. However, when the SDLP put forward a proposal to reach agreement on such a bill, members could not achieve consensus. What has any party to lose from participating in this forum? The best way for all parties to contribute to a bill of rights is to participate in round-table discussions with members of civic society. If all nationalist and unionist politicians and members of civic society were to agree on a bill of rights, it would have the widest possible ownership and public confidence and could not be ignored by the Northern Ireland Office.

The SDLP has consistently called for the establish­ment of a forum for the victims and survivors of the troubles. Any process of truth, remembrance and justice must be victim-based. Sustainable peace and true reconciliation will be achieved only through acknow­ledging and accounting for the past and helping some­how to redress the suffering of victims and survivors.

All parties agree that victims should be a priority in any Programme for Government. However, when the SDLP put forward its proposals to that end, there was no consensus. Let us be clear that there is no hierarchy of victims: victims of the state, republican terror and loyalist terror are all entitled to the same consideration.

Victims have a right to the truth and to have the events of the past recorded, acknowledged and, as far as possible, accounted for. They have a right to have their needs recognised and dealt with. Different victims have different needs, but all require an acknowledgment of their loss. For those who want it, that means providing proper support and compensation and remedying the wrongs and injustices of the past. For some, the funda­mental issue is finding the body of one of the disappeared. Victims have the right to be remembered. The enduring legacy of the past is the lives damaged and lost, the suffering inflicted and the suffering that continues.

The SDLP has long championed the rights of victims and survivors and will continue to do so. In particular, we will work to place the rights of victims and survivors at the heart of any process of truth and remembrance. We must ensure that future generations are free from the bigotry and hatred of the past. A tried and tested method of doing so is to encourage good manners, courtesy and respect for all.

Assembly Members should make a public pledge to support, and commit ourselves to promoting and working to achieve, an inclusive society that values and empowers people. We must show collective leadership by ensuring that everyone has equality of opportunity and equal access to facilities and resources, and that there is equality of esteem for all political and religious beliefs.

MLAs must also encourage, recognise and promote the richness of culture of all traditions, groups and communities across the North of Ireland. Our responsibility is to ensure that the rights of others are respected. At all times, we must affirm our commitment to non-violence. More importantly, as politicians, we must ensure that we acknowledge the rights of each individual through our actions and by avoiding words that could in any way damage, injure or deny the civil rights and well-being of others.

We should also ask all those in our communities — individuals, schools, youth groups, community groups and others in the community sector — to pledge their support for a more inclusive society that values and empowers people.

Members have the opportunity to lead by example — to come together to share power in Government. Contributors to the debate have spoken passionately about the issues. Those issues could be at the heart of a Programme for Government in a devolved Assembly. We could take action that would bring about progress in Northern Ireland and would provide its children with a better life based on equality. It is important that a shared future be built.

I want to reiterate that actions, words and deeds can, as has happened in the past, lead to violence being perpetrated on certain members of the community.

Mr Poots: As the previous Member to speak did not give way to my colleague, it is appropriate that I point out that Mr Dawson said nothing that could be construed as homophobic. He did not say anything to incite or support violence against the homosexual community. He pointed out that there has been an attack on people who have Christian beliefs, and that there are issues and problems with how homosexuality contrasts with biblical teaching.

That brings us to the subject of the debate: it is a challenge to freedom of speech, which is one of the first principles of equality. Freedom of assembly and all other rights follow from it. People who expound freedom of speech and say what they believe in a way that is not inflammatory are being challenged. Mr Dawson went to great lengths to illustrate the sort of challenges that ministers of the Gospel and lay preachers could face if they chose to go down a particular route.

I want to focus on the Equality Commission. How can high standards of equality be achieved when the equality watchdog in Northern Ireland has failed so miserably? Since its inception, the Equality Commission has stuck rigidly to recruiting about 60% of its staff from a Catholic background, whereas 60% of its staff should come from a Protestant background and about 40% from a Roman Catholic background.

The Equality Commission grew out of an amalgam­ation of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Fair Employment Commission, which had replaced the Fair Employment Agency. The Equality Commission was given all their roles. However, since the establishment of the Fair Employment Agency in 1976, the appropriate percentages of the religious background of staff have never been achieved. The Equality Commission is charged with monitoring that activity in other organ­isations but has never achieved that itself.

The Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, Bob Collins — who, by the way, hails from the Irish Republic — states that it is not the religious background of his staff that is important, but their impartiality. Although that could be taken at face value, one must consider how those staff discharge their work. I challenge the Equality Commission to cite one case in which it acted for the collective rights of Protestants. In fairness, I admit that it has acted on behalf of individual Protestants only.

Mr Weir: I wonder whether the Equality Commission would accept similar words to those of Bob Collins from a firm that it had under investigation for an imbalance in its workforce? Would it be acceptable for the managing director of such a firm to say it that it does not matter that there is an imbalance as long as the staff are impartial?

Mr Poots: It is unlikely that the Equality Commission would accept that as a reasonable response.

When one looks back to what happened to Shorts plc and other companies, but particularly the high wire act that the Equality Commission undertook as regards Shorts plc, that high profile contrasts with its actions as regards many other companies in Northern Ireland, which have a greater proportion of Protestant under-representation in their workforces. The Equality Commission has never publicly challenged those companies in that way.

Gregory Campbell and I have met the Equality Commission many times. We have quoted the employ­ment statistics of those companies and the fact that statistical records show that that under-representation is worsening every year. The Equality Commission’s response was that it requested those companies to make welcoming statements. Clearly, those statements have not worked. The commission pushed Shorts to do more than simply make welcoming statements.

It is clear that there is one policy for the Protestant community and another for the Roman Catholic community. I put it to the Equality Commission that it does not treat the two communities fairly in practice.

12.45 pm

The Equality Commission agreed that fifty-fifty recruitment was acceptable in the case of the PSNI. Its basis for adopting that process was the apparent inability, over a prolonged period, of the police to encourage Roman Catholics to join. However, the same situation applies to the Equality Commission in that it has failed to encourage Protestants to apply for its jobs over a protracted period. Perhaps the Equality Commission should seek to address its problems by introducing fifty-fifty recruitment. If it is good enough for the PSNI, it should be good enough for the Equality Commission.

Dr McCrea: Perhaps my Friend could address the fact that there is total silence from the SDLP and other groupings on this issue, yet there have been howls for fifty-fifty recruitment in the police. Why is there silence about the inequalities of the Equality Commission?

Mr Poots: Perhaps we can discuss the matter later, but the SDLP seems to think that the Equality Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Parades Commission are perfect. They believe that the legislation that has been introduced is good and that it can be built upon, but it cannot be taken away from. Patricia Lewsley stated that she would allow further issues to be added and developed on, but would not allow the legislation to be weakened in any way.

Mr Robert McCartney: Is the Member aware of a recent decision relating to police recruitment in England in which a white male applicant was successful in receiving compensation, because he was able to establish that his application had been turned down in favour of a policy of recruiting women and members of ethnic groups, and it was held that that was a breach of his human rights?

Mr Poots: That individual may have had the support of the equivalent body in England. However, if a Protestant were to take a case against the PSNI, they would not receive the support of the Equality Commission because it has identified that the fifty-fifty recruitment process must be in place. Therefore a better qualified Protestant would not be entitled to challenge a decision with the support of the Equality Commission.

Representatives from the Equality Commission told us that they had difficulty in recruiting Protestants because the numbers of Protestants attending the School of Law in Queen’s University Belfast were so low. When those representatives were asked what they were doing about that problem, there was silence. Again , there is failure.

Mr Weir: I appreciate that my Friend seems to be up and down quite a bit today.

The Member mentioned the Equality Commission’s comments on the School of Law at Queen’s University. However, applicants to the Institute of Professional Legal Studies outnumber places by about four to one. Thus many law graduates cannot enter the legal profession to become solicitors and barristers. Given that spare capacity, surely it should be easy to recruit equitably to provide an appropriate community mix. We must therefore take the remarks about the School of Law with a pinch of salt.

Mr Poots: I thank the Member for those points. The chill factor in our universities is important, but Protestant representation in the legal field is even more important as there is a significant lack of Protestants in the legal profession. That trend will be extrapolated in the appointment of Queen’s Counsels (QCs) and judges, and thus the entire legal profession in Northern Ireland will lack balanced representation. We should be deeply concerned about that — if that is allowed to continue, significant problems will arise.

The students’ union at Queen’s University, in its employment practices and its promotion of cultural issues, has not helped matters. It has clearly discriminated against the unionist and Protestant community.

I will finish by touching on the parading issue, which the SDLP mentioned earlier. The DUP made proposals for restructuring the Parades Commission to enable it to operate better. The DUP believes that the Parades Commission cannot act as both a decision-making body and a mediating body — the two roles clash. The party’s suggestion was that the decision-making role should be semi-judicial and that the commission should examine and address its mediation role.

I note that Mr Alban Maginness is in the Chamber. He put up most of the resistance to the DUP’s proposal, and perhaps he will clarify his position later. The SDLP seems to think that the Parades Commission is some kind of Utopia that has already reached a state of perfection and thus needs no improvement. It appears that as the Parades Commission is most acceptable to the nationalist community, it is absolutely irrelevant that it is wholly unacceptable to unionists.

I challenge that attitude. If we take that approach — we have what we hold — to everything in Northern Ireland, there will be little prospect of progress on any issue. I suggest that the SDLP review its attitude to parading, which has been hugely contentious for a long time. If we are to resolve the parading issue, the Parades Commission must command the support of both communities, not just of the nationalist community. Changes will have to be made. The DUP’s proposed changes would not have damaged the process — rather they would have helped it.

Mr Storey: Does the Member agree that an SDLP councillor in my constituency has an extremely provocative attitude to parades? Declan O’Loan plays the green card, which plays into the hands of republicans and dissident republicans in Ballymena whose clear agenda is to stop parades. He assists them in doing that.

Mr Poots: People can be provocative about parades. This year, people in many areas of Northern Ireland — particularly those in the unionist community — sought to take much of the heat out of the parading issue. There­fore we had a relatively successful summer. How­ever, if we are to build on that, there must be changes to both the Parades Commission and the current attitude to parading. The SDLP has a central role to play in that.

Madam Speaker: As Members know, the Business Committee has arranged to meet at lunchtime today. I propose therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend this sitting until 2.00 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 12.56 pm.

On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —

2.00 pm

Mr Hussey: In supporting the motion, I am reminded of a newspaper headline last week, “Sinn Féin Snubs Victims”.

Like Patricia Lewsley and David Ford, I thank and congratulate the Chairpersons and everybody involved in assisting the Committee with its work. It was a privilege to be involved in the work of that format of the Committee on the Preparation for Government (PFG Committee).

The PFG Committee dealing with rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims considered a bill of rights for Northern Ireland and human rights in general. What greater human right is there than that of the right to life? What organisation has been more responsible for the denial of that fundamental human right than the organisation that does not even have the courage of its own misguided conviction to be here to even try to publicly justify its position?

The Committee considered parades; Sinn Féin has manipulated and orchestrated unjustified scenarios on that issue for blatant political gain. It has asked for face-to-face dialogue in respect of many parades throughout the community, but we are here to debate the issue face to face. It appears that the writing that I have seen on many walls in republican areas about the IRA is ringing true for its political wing — I Ran Away.

The Committee, which included Sinn Féin members, reached agreement on many vital issues that can be progressed. However, it is unfortunate that the House cannot ratify the report because Sinn Féin has decreed that it is not prepared to enter into political debate with the democratic majority in Northern Ireland represented in the Chamber. Rather, Members can note the excellent work of the PFG Committee. It considered equality, good relations and a shared future. Sinn Féin, obviously, has nothing to share with Members.

Madam Speaker and other Members will remember that, in debates of the previous Assembly, I clearly distinguished between an elective mandate and a democratic mandate. No one can deny that Sinn Féin has an elective mandate, but it has yet to fully endorse the democratic mandate.

My main remit within this format of the PFG Committee concerned our past and its legacy. The normal society that the PFG Committee, its subgroup and the House are endeavouring to work towards may not emerge in our lifetimes if we do not adequately deal with our past. It is a central precursor to moving forward.

It was agreed that those with primary responsibility for the disappearance of the disappeared needed to finally resolve the issue. The Committee recognised the need for greater support to be given to the families of the disappeared, recommending the establishment of a family liaison officer to support those families. I am confident that the House will concur.

The Ulster Unionist Party’s comments on victims and survivors of terrorism were, and are, predicated on three points. First, we do not equate victims with perpetrators, and I concur with Mr McCausland’s point on this subject. Secondly, each victim’s situation is personal and specific, and any process must reflect that. Any process that may be established must be victim-centred and not subject to a loose, generic system. Thirdly, there is no hierarchy of victimhood.

However, there is a spectrum of victimhood: from those who still bear the physical and mental trauma and those who can forgive and those who will not; to those who regard themselves as survivors and who wish to carry on with the rest of their lives while, no doubt, retaining their private and personal memories.

In the Committee, the Ulster Unionist Party focused primarily on the establishment of agreed principles to provide the necessary framework for victims’ issues to be dealt with sensitively and fairly. The definition of a victim was important to all parties, but could not be agreed. That central factor resulted in several important proposals not finding consensus. The Ulster Unionist Party believes that only those who have suffered through illegal and criminal actions — not the perpetrators themselves — are the true victims of the troubles.

We are all aware of the efforts of perpetrators of violence to sanitise their respective murder campaigns. The efforts of terrorists to legitimise their actions create the problem that we were unable to resolve. I contend that it is only right that account is taken of responsibility and criminal culpability in determining society’s collective approach to victims’ issues. In our view, perpetrators of violence are plainly not victims.

Further, we recognise that illegal and criminal actions have not been perpetrated by only one side of our community. Those who operated outside the framework of civic society; who acted beyond law and order, and who sought to remove from others the most fundamental of all rights — the right to life — cannot be classed as victims or survivors. In spite of widely differing views, the Committee agreed that the issue of victims should be identified and given priority in any Programme for Government. I am confident that this House can concur with such a proposal, which would mean that that we should examine existing levels of support for victims and the glaring need for increased support and proper mainstream funding for victims’ groups.

Many on this side of the House are aware of the tenuous situation facing victims’ groups, which operate from hand to mouth and wonder whether they will be able to open their doors the next day. Those groups must continuously reduce hours and/or lay off essential core workers who have gained irreplaceable under­standing and knowledge of their client base. Those are personnel in whom the client base has confidence and who can empathise fully with those with whom they work.

Although I know that it is wrong to single out any of the many victim support groups throughout Northern Ireland, I cannot fail to mention West Tyrone Voice in my own constituency, which supports victims whom I know well. The work of that group is second to none and is mirrored in all such groups throughout Northern Ireland.

Is it not insensitive and grossly insulting to expect groups that represent victims and survivors of terrorist actions to have to sit down with groups that are representative of the perpetrators of those actions if they are to access the funding that is vital for their survival? Would it not be more productive to let such victims’ groups grow in confidence and, in their own time — if and when they are ready — engage with others, rather than find themselves being financially blackmailed into doing so?

There are many individuals who believe that they were poorly treated by the state in the past in regard to their rightful needs. There should be a review of past levels of compensation.

We do not know it all. The Government should examine international best practice in support of the development of special community-based initiatives, such as a trauma and counselling service. In that respect, I had the privilege of being involved in the work of the South West Local Strategic Partnership Community Victims and Survivors Initiative, partnered with our local health trust. I recommend the recently published report of that initiative, ‘Casting Bread upon the Water’, as essential reading for those taking forward victims and survivors’ issues. I congratulate Sean Coll, our community victims’ support officer, for his work on that excellent report.

The Committee considered the establishment of a victims’ forum. All members agreed with that principle, but consensus could not be achieved on participants. Again, the issue of definition arose. From my own engagement with various individuals and groups, I fully understand that many would have difficulty in sitting down with those who were responsible for their situation.

A victims’ forum should be just that: a forum for the true victims of terrorism. Once again, because of definitions, consensus could not be reached either on a day of remembrance and reflection or memorials. It is tragic that there are many memorials for the victims of terror in our land. Those memorials, which have been erected by relatives and friends, are victim-centred, personal and specific. My experiences with the families of many friends who were murdered in the troubles have shown me that they would not want their kith and kin to be associated in a single national memorial with those who carried out terrorist acts.

Sinn Féin-controlled councils attempted to plant trees of remembrance as part of a cross-community day of coming together to remember victims. Even though its Members are absent, Sinn Féin is fully aware that that project failed because the Protestant/loyalist/unionist community did not want to be associated with it. It was viewed as yet another political exercise to sanitise the actions of Sinn Féin’s military wing.

Contrast that with Omagh District Council’s refusal to support the Omagh Support and Self Help Group’s efforts to place a memorial plaque at the site of the Omagh bombing. Why was that the case? Sinn Féin would not support the acknowledgement on the plaque that the perpetrators of that attack were republican terrorists. I trust that Members will agree that that represents a blatant Sinn Féin denial of the facts. However, what is new? I congratulate the Omagh Support and Self Help Group for its tenacity in its ongoing fight for justice, and I wish it well in those efforts.

The nationalist and republican community appears to expect two standards in a truth-and-reconciliation process. It expects: first, full disclosure and accountability from the forces of law and order; and secondly, codes of honour that grant secrecy to terrorist organisations. The Ulster Unionist Party is clear that the South African model for truth and reconciliation is not suitably transferable, either in whole or in part, to meet the needs of Northern Ireland.

Mr Elliott: Does the Member agree that it is important to get to the truth in any truth-and-reconciliation process but that, in doing so, we must realise that those who have murdered and maimed in the Province in the past three decades are highly unlikely to tell the truth in any such forum?

Mr Hussey: I thank the Member for that intervention. As I said, codes of honour that allow for secrecy will hide the truth.

The Ulster Unionist Party congratulates Bertha McDougall on the excellent work that she has done to date. The establishment of a permanent victims’ commissioner is the way forward. In the absence of an Executive Government in Northern Ireland — which has come about through no fault of the democratic majority, which is in the Chamber — I urge the Secretary of State to take note of and act on the many excellent suggestions that were made in the meetings of the Committee on the Preparation for Government that dealt with rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims. I support the motion.

Mr Shannon: Thers aa’hale lok o’issues brocht up in this report. Mony that aa’ wud laek tae taulk aboot. But thers jist gaun tae be a breef disgusshun, o’yin ishyee, an because aa’cum fae Strangford, ye micht hae sum soart et at least a guid idea, o’whut am guan tae sae. An that is tha permotshun o’tha hamely tongue, Ulster Scotch, I Norlin Airlan.

Whiles A’hm no wantin’ tae gae owre agin whit bes gyely clear hit maun bae pointed oot hoo thair isnae onie parity o’treatment atween Airish an’ Ulster Scotch permotshun. Ulster Scotch bes entitlet tae bae treated the saime es Airish, es an officially designated minority leid — no jist a dialect! Tae risk comin acroass laike a wean A hae tae point oot at the wie things stan’ theday isnae fair. The latest facts adae wi’catter an’ fundin A cum oan wur fae 2002-04, an shew hoo far ahin we ir i gien hefts tae the cultural velue o’Ulster Scotch I Norlin Airlan.

2.15 pm

There are many worthy issues raised in the Committee’s report that I would like to address. However, time permits only a brief discussion of one issue. As I come from the Strangford district, you may have a fair idea of what I am at pains to stress: the promotion of the Ulster-Scots culture in Northern Ireland. While I have no wish to rehash what will be abundantly clear, I must point out that there is a clear lack of parity between the promotion of Irish and that of Ulster Scots. Ulster Scots is entitled to parity of treatment with Irish as an officially designated minority language, not merely a dialect. At the risk of sounding juvenile, I simply must point out that the way things stand at present is not fair. The funding facts for 2000-04 show exactly how far behind we are in the promotion of the cultural value of Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland.

I would like to focus on paragraph 39 of the report. My colleague Mr McCausland has mentioned the clear disparity in funding. It is a ratio of 6:1; for every pound that Ulster Scots gets, Irish gets six. There is currently an imbalance of £10 million. Although funding for Ulster Scots has increased, it is still nowhere near the level it should be at when the sheer volume of those who are part of the culture are taken into consideration. From the beautiful shores of Strangford Lough to the shores of Lough Erne and the hills of Donegal, the whispers of Ulster Scots can be heard in everyday terminology.

The problem lies, perhaps, in the fact that people do not always understand their culture, and cannot have any pride in their culture and heritage unless it is brought to light for them. This failing must be addressed as speedily as possible. Not only do the people of Northern Ireland miss out on their history, but Northern Ireland misses out on the boost to the tourist industry that the proper promotion of this non-political, rich and rewarding aspect of local culture could bring.

Over 200,000 tourists come from Scotland to Northern Ireland every year. Imagine the potential for even more growth were we to fully explore the links, both current and historic. Local pipe bands have returned from the annual World Pipe Band Championship in Glasgow with success in many areas. Also present at the competition were bands from Canada and further afield. The potential to expand this aspect of local culture would be welcomed by many who can trace their ancestry back to our fair shores.

There are information sites dedicated to Ulster Scots in many countries: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and America, to name a few. The subscription to learning about their roots in Ulster is by no means small. In America, a nation that takes pride in its rich heritage, over 22 million people can trace their roots back to the wee Province of Ulster. Imagine if we were to draw a mere percentage of that number to our shores through effective promotion of the Ulster-Scots language. That would increase tourism and boost our economy no end.

How can we achieve this? In Ards Borough Council, a subgroup is dedicated to the promotion of Ulster Scots. In Newry and Mourne Council, there is a similar committee, and Castlereagh Borough Council has also made a commitment to the language. These councils are trying energetically to promote Ulster Scots. Ards was the first council to put up Ulster-Scots signs, with unanimous cross-community support in the council for the motion, including the SDLP. I was reminded after the meeting that some of the more proficient speakers of Ulster Scots in the Ards Peninsula are members of the SDLP.

Mr Dallat: Does Mr Shannon agree that more money would be available to finance Ulster Scots if the former chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency, Lord Laird, had not spent so much money hiring private taxis to go to Dublin?

Mr Shannon: I will leave that comment for someone else to answer; it is not worthy of a response.

We in Ards were the first council to support Ulster Scots, but we also support the funding of many books and plays, such as ‘The Scot in America and the Ulster Scot’ by Whitelaw Reid.

Our own Billy Kennedy, who is a close relative of one Member, has promoted Scotch-Irish books across the Province, Europe and the United States. That indicates how many people have promoted Ulster Scots internally, but it also shows that much more is possible.

Numerous celebrations are planned to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of Hamilton and Montgomery’s plantation of Ards. Those celebrations are the culmination of years of effort. Indeed, thousands of people from across the entire community have attended the ongoing Dawn of the Ulster-Scots festival in Greyabbey.

There is a clear celebration of Ulster Scots across the divide; indeed, some of my constituents speak Ulster Scots fluently. If Northern Ireland as a whole were to embrace Ulster-Scots tradition and heritage, it would be in a much better economic and social position. Fair and adequate promotion and funding will benefit not just one sector in Northern Ireland; it will profit everyone in the Province. Ards is displaying a true celebration of culture and diversity: why not allow the entire Province to experience and enjoy the simple pleasures that can be found in the tribute of a rich, extensive and inclusive culture that reminds us all of where we came from and who we have the potential to be?

I shall give some examples of very prominent Ulster-Scots men: the poet Edgar Allan Poe; the United States President George Washington; the army general Robert E Lee; and Blair Mayne — or Colonel Paddy, as he was also known — who was a local hero in Ards, the Province and the world. Just for the record, Elvis Presley was also an Ulster Scot, and he was a man for the rock and roll.

Mr McNarry: He still lives in the peninsula. [Laughter.]

Mr Shannon: He is heard regularly in my house.

The very blood that flowed through those prominent Ulster-Scots men is the same blood that flows through me and many Members. That blood also flows through the veins of many people outside the Chamber. Many people feel part of the Ulster-Scots heritage and experience. If we can find a way to instil a sense of pride in our up-and-coming generation, perhaps it will take those men as examples and be more successful as a result.

To fully comprehend where we are going, we must first understand where we have been. Let us invest in our future by collectively priding ourselves on our past.

Mr Gallagher: As Members know, the Review of Public Administration (RPA) will radically change the future of local government. If the Secretary of State has his way, there will be seven “super councils”: three will be dominated by representatives of the nationalist tradition; another three dominated by representatives of the unionist tradition; and Belfast will most likely be more evenly balanced.

The direct-rule Ministers who are dealing with the RPA have chosen to ignore the dangers that are in those new arrangements. There is a danger of ongoing political domination and, indeed, a real danger that a form of Balkanisation could emerge. When the subject has been brought to the attention of direct-rule Ministers and their civil servants, their rhetoric has been that everything will be all right and that safeguards and protections will be in place. Those safeguards and protections are needed because, despite the positive signs in many local councils that we are on the road towards a more normal society, some unionist-dominated councils to this day refuse to share power and refuse to allocate top posts on a cross-community basis.

Rhetoric from direct-rule Ministers that they will do something about that is just not good enough.

Members will know that the Minister with responsibility for the RPA has established a task force and several working groups, which have been active and reporting for months. They have ignored, however, the need for protections and safeguards for the minorities living in the council areas. Safeguards are not mentioned in a single sentence of any of their reports.

I remind Members that it is of fundamental import­ance that safeguards are put in place in advance of the new arrangements, so that all the new councils can operate on the basis of fairness and equality. It is imperative that the new arrangements include statutory safeguards and legislative guarantees for cross-community representation in the top posts in all councils and for proportional representation in appointments to all council committees and outside bodies. Most importantly, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure sufficient consensus on all important decisions.

Members will be aware of plans to return additional powers to local government. In the present circumstances, that is premature. We are all aware of the contentious issues, of which planning and housing are examples. The future working of those issues must initially be based on regional policy that has been agreed by the elected Members of an Assembly that works on the basis of partnership and inclusion.

The report contains wide-ranging views on education, not least the contributions of our different school systems to the acceptance of difference and the healing of division. Separate schooling is a feature of the history of Northern Ireland. These days, however, parents are increasingly exercising their right to choose the type of education of which they wish their children to avail. The result of that is, of course, the growth that we have seen in the integrated and Irish-medium sectors. That diversity of provision has been a welcome development, and parental choice must continue to be a guiding principle in any future education policy.

Mr Storey: The Member referred to the RPA. Does he agree that he is at variance with the Roman Catholic bishops who, in their submission to the RPA, made it abundantly clear that, regardless of all the buzz words and nice phrases about equality and inclusion, the best form of education is a Roman Catholic education, dominated by the Church, and, as far as they are concerned, any other form of education is not to be welcomed?

Mr Gallagher: I have not seen the report to which the Member referred and, therefore, I cannot comment. However, I am coming to the issue that he raised.

Members will know that the majority of parents will, for the foreseeable future, continue to choose either maintained or controlled schools. That choice does not mean that they are advocating continued division in society. Separate schools did not cause the divisions in this society; they merely reflect them. Research has shown consistently that the home, not the school, is the most powerful influencer of children’s social attitudes.

For the benefit of Mr Storey, I want to say that, over the years, all of our schools, often in the face of violence or polarisation, have played an influential role in promoting positive community relations. We must all encourage schools to achieve greater levels of co-operation and new levels of appreciation of difference on the basis of race, religion or culture.

Schools now face the challenge of educating our young people to be at ease in a multicultural environ­ment, in which mutual respect, acceptance and appreciation of diversity are values that must be nurtured in the promotion of social cohesion and the creation of a normal civic society in which all individuals are considered equal.

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Many Members have mentioned the plight of victims in this society. Dealing with the past is one of the preconditions for lasting peace and a safe future. The task of facing and dealing with the past is a challenge that any future devolved Assembly will have to confront and make a top priority. As we know, the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs’ interim report last year stated that the time was not yet right to put in place a formal “truth recovery” mechanism.

Although clear consensus has yet to emerge on mechanisms to promote reconciliation and healing for victims, much good work has been done, and continues to be done, on the ground. The Healing Through Remembering project has conducted much consultation and research at both local and international level on methods that can be adopted to help victims. Possible methods of doing that have emerged from its deliberations, and those include story telling and testimonies. A scoping study has revealed that more than 30 local story-telling projects are already taking place. There are also proposals to hold a day of reflection in June 2007 and for a living memorial museum. That work, and the other genuine contributions to the healing process are to be commended, and all are worthy of further discussion. Any process for dealing with victims and survivors must be based on victims’ needs and must take a bottom-up rather than top-down approach.

My colleague Ms Lewsley, as did many other Members, referred to ‘A Shared Future’. After a long consultation, the Government’s ‘A Shared Future: Policy and Strategic Framework for Good Relations in Northern Ireland’ was published in March 2005. As I have pointed out many times, we all share the future here, because we must share this piece of territory. The quality of that future will hinge on the relationships that we manage to build or on those that we fail to build. The strategy for building a shared future has been laid down. A priority for any new Government will be to translate that plan into action.

Mr McNarry: The House is being asked to note the work that the Committee completed and its resulting report on rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims. In other places, “to note” means “to dispose of”, “to take no further action on” or “to file away and perhaps dust down later”. I trust, Madam Speaker, that that is not to be the fate of this report, because it is a good report, which is worth holding on to and returning to. Page 10 of the report contains an eye-catching bullet point that has not been included in the executive summary. It refers to parades and the issues surrounding parades, and it states:

“Solving the problems that have been associated with parades as a fundamental prerequisite to political progress and stability in Northern Ireland.”

That is fair enough. However, from an Ulster Unionist perspective, I do not think that the bullet point goes far enough in interpreting and spelling out what my party colleague Danny Kennedy said in Committee. I later endorsed and elaborated on his remarks.

Does the House seriously believe that a newly formed devolved Executive could withstand the pressure of office unless the Drumcree situation and other such disputes are resolved, when it remains patently clear that such disputes are not even under consideration? On this issue, and on the general issue of parades, only the Ulster Unionist Party has raised the bar to the extent of stating that disputes over parades must be on the way to resolution before devolution can be restored. Members should refer to the “Official Reports Relating to the Report”, page 169, where my colleague Danny Kennedy stipulates that:

“any outstanding controversies around parades must be well on their way to being resolved before devolution is restored.”

The issue of parades was originally tabled for discussion in the Preparation for Government Committee that dealt with law-and-order issues; I had the issue moved to the PFG Committee that dealt with rights, safeguards, and so forth. During the law-and-order debate last week, Members delved into the ramifications of creating the post of Minister for policing and justice. Would he or she be responsible for parades?

Let us move forward beyond today’s report on the issue of rights to a time when the DUP has repaired its splits and patched up its factions in order to get things right and gauge — yet again — the public mood, which is asking the party to do the deal that Her Majesty’s Government require it to do in order to restore devolved government. Between today and 11 October, or between that date and 24 November, or within a short time after the alleged deadline, what evidence will have been presented to indicate that a shared future includes a shared space for people to exercise their cultural expression by way of organising traditional Loyal Order walks or processions? What evidence will be advanced that those who have tactically master­minded the formation of concerned residents’ groups to oppose by any means, lawful or unlawful, the Loyal Orders’ right to peaceful and lawful assembly has been withdrawn? What evidence will be brought forward to state, without conditions, that permission from the so-called host community is not an issue and is no longer being withheld by any key holder from members of the loyal orders so that they can walk peacefully along a road or pass through a certain area?

Between now and whenever a devolved government is to be formed, what evidence is there that all outstanding problems and disputes surrounding the issue of parades are well and truly on their way to being resolved? The answer is that there is no evidence. The key players with the numbers required to do the deal are not even thinking about a resolution of the parades issue before agreeing to enter into Government with each other. If I am wrong, let us hear about it. Let us know where those key players have placed the parades issue on their negotiating priority list.

Reference has been made, and thanks given, by earlier contributors for the past two reasonably peaceful summers. That showed how communities, annually caught in the thick of tension and the daily risk of violence exploding onto the streets, could, under the right conditions, find an outcome of negotiated compromise that satisfied each other. Members of the House helped to deliver some positive achievements that might not normally have materialised, and their efforts should be duly recognised.

However, the major effort came from community activists. It was they who actually made the difference.

When it came to resolving local parades disputes, it was not only the Ulster Unionist and DUP represent­atives who worked; the Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) activists also punched in the hours. Apparently, for some, it was OK for the lads to marshal routes at flashpoint interfaces and weed out the troublemakers, and, if things looked like getting hot, it was only proper that the lads work on it.

However, memories are short. As we witnessed in this House recently, the lads may be good enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with in the summer, but their representative is apparently not good enough to link into my party’s Assembly group. Do we really want loyalists of only a certain kind, and at a certain time, when we can use them and put them in a box until the following year?

The response to that question is every bit as important as the response being sought by unionists from republicans and constitutional nationalists as to how they can support the view that failing to resolve controversies over parades poses a serious impediment to restoring devolution. Without the resolution to this issue, as demanded by the Ulster Unionists, we risk placing any new Executive on a knife-edge every summer. In those circumstances, it is inevitable that parties in an Executive will take sides over the handling of a controversial parade or even a decision to allow or ban it in the first place. The ingredients to wobble, if not topple, a new Executive are in the reality bag so long as the issue remains outside the resolution box.

A lodge collar, a shirt and tie, one’s best suit and good shoes are hardly the uniform of a person preparing to riot. The non-obligatory bowler hat and umbrella are to protect against showers of rain — they do not protect against showers of bricks and bottles. We have a choice: will every summer be how it used to be, with Northern Ireland closing down for July? Is that what we are looking for? The parties also have a choice: we can pass today’s motion. Unfortunately, we are restrained from amending it. It does not really mean anything to me, and I wish that I could have amended it. Please do not just note it.

The Ulster Unionist Party is resolved to prioritising the parading issue at the first opportunity. There is no bartering and no negotiating position over rights or the perplexities of a primacy of rights. When did that apply? For over 3,000 days Portadown district number 1 has been waiting to secure free and safe passage for its return walk from Drumcree parish church to Carleton Street orange hall. All along, the Parades Commission has overseen a rioters’ charter and the erosion of rights and freedoms applicable to the cultural expression of the Portadown men and many others.

In simply noting the report and doing nothing else, we all fall into the complacent trap of putting the issue away for another year. I urge all Members to join the Ulster Unionists in making parading the priority that it deserves to be. Do not leave it until next summer; do not believe that devolution will flourish as the parades issue remains in limbo and unsolved. Resolve the disputes, and we will go a long way towards creating stability and real peace. If this House can bring that, it will have done a great duty.

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Mr Easton: When we deal with victims, our parading culture, the disappeared and human rights, we deal with the most important and sensitive issues of our time for the unionist community and further afield.

I want to turn to the critical issue of the disappeared. That word, in and of itself, does not do justice to the trauma and agony that loved ones feel for the nearest and dearest of whom they have been cruelly deprived. All the lives that are referred to by the term “disappeared” are very important, but allow me for a moment to come close to home and the case of Lisa Dorrian.

No words of mine can adequately express the trauma, the agony and the daily pain that this family is suffering — their lives and livelihoods have been put on hold as they await the return of Lisa. I add my voice to those of all right-thinking people and call on anyone who can help the police in any way to do so immediately. I believe that someone somewhere can help, and it is that person’s bounden duty to do so. All these months have gone by, and Lisa is still missing. This is unjustified and unjustifiable, and the consciences of those responsible must be killing them. In the name of human decency, I appeal for an end to the family’s agony.

Let me turn to those many other families who lost loved ones through the evil of terrorism and for whom no grave can yet provide a place of solace and comfort. Theirs is indeed the loneliest of roads and the most painful of paths. The irony is that those who often cry the loudest for human rights are those who have violated the most fundamental human right of all: the right to life. The absence of Sinn Féin today is an insult to those victims yet again. Sinn Féin has run away and is hiding behind closed doors. To those who have tortured and killed, I say that the ignominy of their actions will leave an indelible stain on their characters that they will take to their graves. Let them not be deceived by perverted terrorist ideology: their actions were wrong and a fundamental affront to democracy.

The need for a liaison officer for those who deal with the moment-by-moment consequences of having a loved one “disappeared” is important. The case has been well made, and it has my full support.

Now let me turn to culture and to the parading tradition of the pro-British community. This matter must be addressed. For too long the Ulster-Scots culture has been discriminated against by those with warped minds and by those who do not understand any culture apart from their own. Parading in the Ulster/British community, and particularly for the Loyal Orders, the Royal Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys, is a long and honourable tradition. It should be cherished and welcomed. It also has an international dimension: the Orange Institution can be found in Australia, Canada, Togo and the United States, among other countries.

It is to be welcomed and respected. Let no one be in any doubt that if we are to live in a mature democracy, parading must be settled. I challenge those whose democratic development is stunted to move on from the failed practice of cultural apartheid. In North Down, on 12 July, we celebrated 100 years of Bangor district, and 80,000 people lined the streets of Bangor to watch a carnival and enjoy a family occasion that was no threat to anyone. Families had a great time celebrating their culture, and Catholic and Protestant neighbours stood side by side enjoying the day. The Twelfth has great potential for tourism; if only those who oppose this could see the benefits that it could bring to the economy and people of Northern Ireland.

As I have said, parading has been part of our tradition and heritage for generations. Make no mistake: it will still be there for generations to come, long after we are gone.

I challenge those opposed to our culture to move on and accept the inevitable, and to step up to the mark and accept the right of freedom of assembly, which is the key to success.

Mr Hussey: I thank the Member for giving way. I noticed that in his list of parading organisations he did not include the band parading culture. Will the Member explain where the band parading culture fits in with his view of parading?

Mr Easton: The band culture is part of our culture, and must be welcomed. However, we want a band culture that is acceptable to everybody and enjoyable for everyone in Northern Ireland.

The unionist community has tolerated the tradition of the right to march by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and I demand the same courtesy and rights for the Orange Order.

The Parades Commission is an unelected, unaccountable body, and it must go; it is part of the problem, and not a solution. Its failure to understand, and its obvious bias against, the Loyal Orders is obvious and unacceptable and, therefore, it must be done away with.

Finally, I appeal for a fair deal for the innocent victims. A proper package of support will not address the legacy of hurt that terrorism has caused, but it can, and should, help. The innocent victims are due the utmost that society can offer, and it is high time we moved on to make that a reality. Fairness compels us to address adequately the needs of the victims, and we must now move from words to actions.

Mrs D Dodds: There has been much debate about the contents of the PFG Committee’s report on rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims. I welcome the report and thank those who worked so hard to produce this lengthy document.

Like other Members who have already mentioned the fact, I am not surprised that the only party that wanted to censor the report, prevent its publication and stop the Assembly debating these important issues is not in the Chamber. There has been much discussion, quite rightly, on various aspects of the report: the bill of rights; the implementation and the implications of section 75; the parades issue; the shabby treatment of victims over many years; and the need to do more for those who have suffered the most from the violence our community has experienced.

However, I want to confine my remarks to a couple of issues — equality and confidence building within the unionist community — and I say that unreservedly. Over the past 30 years, unionist communities such as those in west Belfast have suffered badly from violence, both from within and without. Republican violence has left many scars, but much harm has also been done by direct rule Ministers who have pandered to the strident demands of republicans that have been dressed up in the fine words of equality.

Republicans in west Belfast have abandoned any notion of equality and a shared future agenda, and their cultural agenda has now taken on the mantle of cultural apartheid, with republicans trying to hive off large tracts of the constituency for a Gaeltacht quarter. Not only is that agenda swallowing up huge amounts of Government funding, it is also segregating the city. The small, vulnerable unionist community in west Belfast is evermore squeezed by a vision of the area that is totally Gaelic and Irish, and driven by that well-known moderate Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

It is communities such as those in unionist west Belfast and along the border who need confidence in equality legislation, and who need that level playing field created, so that they can be empowered to take their rightful place in any future Northern Ireland.

The PFG Committee agreed one important issue: equality measures need to be implemented to address objective need and current trends to avert future problems, and all interested parties, including Government, should be fully committed to addressing the issue.

That is a fine objective, but easier to say than to practice. The phrase “equality is for everyone” is much flaunted, and much trotted out to satisfy political correctness, and many heads in this Chamber will nod their assent. However, what are we doing about it?

Today, I want to look at equality in the Youth Service. Every child in Northern Ireland is guaranteed a place in school — a good concept of equality. However, the situation is very different when we consider the provision of youth services, particularly in Belfast. The Shankill ward in West Belfast, which I represent and which is very dear to my heart, is the most deprived ward in Northern Ireland. It is at number one in the Noble indices of deprivation.

On 6 September, the members of the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) were given the latest figures for youth provision in the city. During the financial year 2005-06, the allocated budget for youth provision in the Shankill ward was £275. The allocated budget for the remainder of West Belfast was £831,210.

In the Oldpark electoral area of North Belfast, BELB spends the princely sum of £768 in a youth club known locally as Top Spot, which has been closed for four years. I presume that the £768 was for broken windows or repairs of some sort. BELB spends £265,000 in supporting youth facilities in nationalist areas. That is a situation that my colleague Nelson McCausland and I have questioned repeatedly in the board. We have taken the issue to the Children’s Commissioner, and we will be approaching the Equality Commission. At our instigation, an equality impact assessment is being carried out on the matter.

I hear Members asking what board members have done about tackling inequality. They have simply voted to perpetuate it by reinstating the status quo year after year, after year. They tell me that they inherited the situation, and that it is a legacy of 1973 that they can do nothing about. They have totally failed to face up to the inequalities and in doing so have institutionalised them.

I have raised this matter over and over again since joining the board last year. I have been accused of bringing sectarianism into the Youth Service. I demand no more for the young people that I represent than I do for any other young person; that is, an equal share of the allocated budget. If equality is for everyone, then it is also for the Protestant young people in north and west Belfast who deserve to see it in practice in their communities.

Let me develop the theme a little further. Equality of opportunity is a common goal espoused by all in this Chamber. However, this laudable goal will not ensure equality of outcome if Government Departments and the voluntary and community sector do not recognise the difficulties experienced by many communities.

I read Sinn Féin’s complaints in the report about the allocation of money for the renewal and regeneration of Protestant communities. Sinn Féin denied the fact of weak community infrastructure, and has been supported by many in the voluntary and community sector who are well paid by Government and who have presided over this shambles for many years.

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Let me outline a small example from my constit­uency. In May 2001, my colleague Maurice Morrow, as Minister for Social Development, and Sir Reg Empey, as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, set up the greater Shankill task force and the west Belfast task force. After the publication of their findings in 2002, a joint working group was established between the two task forces to take forward initiatives, with a budget of £21 million allocated by the Integrated Development Fund.

An update in June 2006, provided through Belfast City Council, shows that almost £9 million went to projects in west Belfast and only £900,000 to projects in the greater Shankill area. Members may have guessed that £1 million went to the Gaeltacht quarter — which has helped to segregate the city even further. That is a prime example of equality of opportunity not bringing about equality of outcome, and there is no doubt that a weak community infrastructure and various other ongoing issues within the unionist community contributed to that situation.

What can be done about that? I have made many representations to DETI over a long period of time. Despite West Belfast still not being ready to run with some of the projects, DETI will not reallocate the funding. The money is out there in the ether, but the Department will not allow it to be touched. Instead, the Department set up smokescreens, established inter­departmental groups to consider the situation, and has still not consulted elected representatives. It is easy to espouse the ideal of equality; it is another thing to implement it. Those two ongoing situations, within a small, vulnerable, unionist community that has faced many problems, demonstrate how equality has now become institutionalised.

Not one Sinn Féin or SDLP member of the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) has supported the fight for equality for the young people from Protestant communities in north and west Belfast. If all communities in Northern Ireland are to experience a prosperous future, lip service is simply not enough. If we are to ensure that everyone has a stake in society — even those from the community in Northern Ireland that is most disadvantaged for any number of reasons — we must ensure that there is more than mere lip service to equality.

The confidence of the unionist community has been sapped by republican terrorism and by Government side deals with republicans. My colleague Nelson McCausland took great care to demonstrate that this morning when he talked about festival funding. After the unionist community had been locked out of festival funding for many years, the DUP thought that it had eventually created a level playing field — until Mr Hain took the overtly political decision to issue funds, yet again, to the West Belfast Festival and Ardoyne Fleadh.

Equality for unionists has not been high on the Government’s agenda; there is inequality both in budget allocation and in the workplace. The Royal Group of Hospitals is the largest employer in west Belfast. Some 96% of its workforce, including cleaners, security staff, porters, etc, come from the Catholic community, despite sizeable Protestant communities living adjacent to the hospitals, in the Village, Sandy Row and unionist west Belfast.

The inequality in funding for festivals and other cultural activities, and the large funding grants being given to republican propaganda rags such as ‘Daily Ireland’ contribute to the widespread alienation of the Protestant community.

Inequality eats away at communities. It saps their confidence and completely destroys their trust in the institutions and in Government. It is within the Government’s power to deliver the equality agenda; so far, it has not chosen to do so. Like many colleagues, I warn Mr Hain that we also hear the clock ticking. The deadline of 24 November is fast approaching. It is in Mr Hain’s power to deliver the equality agenda.

Mr McGimpsey: In common with other contributors, I want to thank the staff who have worked so hard to prepare the report, which is a significant and important piece of work. I have no problems in supporting it.

Culture is a pertinent issue. Many years ago, when I took over as Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, I looked up the definition of “culture” in a dictionary. Everybody has a different idea of what culture means. I discovered that culture is defined as being the training and refinement of the mind, taste and manners, and acquainting oneself with the best that has been known and said in the world. That definition was not much help to me. Although that definition may apply to repositories of the best of what has been known and said in the world as far as libraries or museums are concerned, there is a further aspect to culture. It is not popular culture but one that is deeply imbued in society that is of interest to me.

The community’s sense of its own heritage and, at its heart, a desire to develop from within the prerequisite of an outward-looking dynamic society could potentially pay rich dividends for our society where, all too often, a type of activity, school of thought or philosophy might lead to conflict.

We use cultural symbols to communicate and to understand one another. Cultural symbols are imbued with significance and personal meaning. We rely on those symbols. The parades issue has been discussed, and the procession is an important cultural symbol of unionism. The right to hold processions and to march or parade has been present in unionism for the past couple of hundred years. When groups oppose the right of procession, they appear to attack the symbols of a particular community — symbols that have been imbued with personal meaning and significance.

Around 10 years ago, on an Easter Monday, an Apprentice Boys parade went wrong and ended in civil unrest at the Ormeau Bridge. I was caught in the middle of the riot, which continued all day. I was struck by how quickly it had escalated out of control. I was also struck by the fact that despite the offer to hold the parade at 8.00 am, when most people are at home in bed, a group of people from the lower Ormeau Road would not accept that offer. They simply said, “You shall not pass”. The parade did not pass.

Some might ask why that issue should be regarded as important. It is because people regard it as a vital symbol of their community. As David McNarry said, that is why the issue, which has huge potential to dog our society, must not continue to do so. People must tolerate one another’s particular symbols, such as the symbol of procession. The report rightly considers that issue in some detail.

I was also involved in Ulster Scots. The North/South Language Body was set up as part of the Belfast Agreement, and the Ulster-Scots Agency was set up under that remit. When I took office as Minister at the end of 1999, Ulster Scots received funding of just over £100,000, but Irish received about £2 million. That was roughly a 20-fold disparity. I examined not how we could close that gap but how we could address the demand in the Ulster-Scots movement.

Unlike John Dallat, I wish to pay tribute to John Laird for the way in which he took over as chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency. He took it from a dead start: before him there was nothing. He got a great deal of criticism, as did Ulster Scots, not least from the unionist community, a substantial proportion of which does not regard itself as Ulster Scots — rather as Anglo-Saxon or British. Prominent unionist commentators in the media, among others, criticised Ulster Scots. John Laird had a difficult task. I pay tribute to him and to the work of the board members — Alistair Simpson; Dr Ian Adamson; George Patton, now chief executive; and Bob Stoker.

During devolution, the Ulster-Scots Agency was established, as was the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies at the University of Ulster and the Ulster-Scots World­wide Academic Network. I was part of that, because I took the view that Ulster Scots was more than a language. It had only just been recognised and a great deal had to be done to codify it, write it down and record it.

There was a culture and a diaspora there, so I gave authority for the agency to operate outside Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. The agency did that very successfully. Ulster-Scots Day was established in the United States. Jim Shannon mentioned the size of the Irish community — there are 40 million people, and 58% of them are Scotch-Irish. There is a huge diaspora there and a huge potential for tourism and other markets. The Ulster-Scots Academy was established with a budget of £10 million over and above the moneys that were voted through.

Ulster-Scots is recognised as a language in Part II of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. That is significant, because many people have said that it is a vernacular, an idiom, and not a language. They mocked and scorned it, but now it is indisputable, as it is clearly defined as a language under the European Charter. It is a minority language, which has a long way to go, but it is a language nonetheless.

Over 200 Ulster Scots groups have been established in Northern Ireland, which shows the vibrancy in that community and tradition. The important achievements of John Laird and the Ulster-Scots Agency were supported by devolution. None of that would have been possible without devolution and the reference to Ulster Scots in the Belfast Agreement. They are important achievements, and it is wrong to be negative about them. We are only scratching the surface of the work to be done in the United States and the potential there.

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Similarly, the Irish language has made strides. The Irish language had the benefit of Bord na Gaeilge, which had an established infrastructure in the South. It had a very substantial budget — around £8 million — and its own staff, and it looked at the all-Ireland dimension.

The 1991 census in Northern Ireland showed that 142,000 people claimed some knowledge of Irish — that was basically the market — while around 40,000 claimed some knowledge of Ulster Scots, although that has been continually revised upwards to around 100,000.

The new body, Foras na Gaeilge, examined the promotion of Irish on an all-island basis. Given that the population in the South is about 3·5 million and that some of the population in Northern Ireland regard themselves as having allegiance to both Irish and Gaelic, it is no wonder that there is a major disparity in the budgets for the two languages.

We must look at Northern Ireland’s contribution to language. As I said, during my time as Minister, the Northern Ireland contribution to Ulster Scots rose about 15-fold. At one stage, the Ulster-Scots Agency was being given so much money that it could not cope; it had to hand some back. It was important to keep the budget rising, and we kept that support going.

Unfortunately, the lack of devolution has arrested progress on that matter. Without the restoration of devolution in some shape or form, it is difficult to see how that momentum can be regained — for Ulster Scots in particular, and for the Irish language, although it benefits from the fact that the Dublin Government see it as integral to Irish culture.

It is important not to use the treatment of one language as the benchmark for the treatment of another. We should deal with this matter according to demand and different stages of development. It is wrong to run down the Ulster-Scots language for being a long way behind the Irish language — of course it is behind. The Irish language has had the benefit of Bord na Gaeilge, and, about 70 years ago, a de Valera Government produced a standardised dictionary, grammar and so on. Indeed, the language was being worked on for more than 200 years before that. The Ulster-Scots language has only just got going.

My next point is one to which no reference has yet been made, although it is important. I am surprised that it has not been mentioned, but let me mention it now because I am always fond of surprising people. The most important cultural development in the history of Northern Ireland, in capital spend terms, is being proposed right now — the Maze project. That culture and sports development project will cost around £400 million; a stadium will cost around £80 million, and there will be all sorts of ancillary works. Most controversially, there will be development around the Maze hospital. I strongly believe that that is a mistake.

The debate on the stadium was thrashed out at Belfast city hall last week. Alban Maginness, Diane Dodds and I were all present to listen to the presentations on the different stadiums. There is an argument over where the stadium should be, how much it should cost and who should pay for it. No business plan is available for the Maze project and no economic appraisal has been drawn up, yet we have been told that it is a done deal. An economic appraisal and a business plan are the two key requirements outlined in the Government’s green book. Therefore, the proposal is a political one. We can argue about the Maze, but, as everyone knows, my preferred location would be Windsor Park. It is an ideal investment opportunity for that type of stadium; it is already built, and, alongside Casement Park and Ravenhill, it is the most economically sensible option.

One proposal is that the Maze hospital should become part of an international centre for conflict transformation. The hospital where the hunger strikers killed themselves is now protected as a listed building, and that facility will be at the heart of a £10 million investment. That is vindication and validation of what happened there. This matter relates to earlier comments about who is a victim and who is a perpetrator. I, and the people whom I represent, do not consider that those people who starved themselves on hunger strike were victims.

It is exactly the type of cultural development that Northern Ireland does not need. We should not forget the past, but neither should we live in it. We must draw a line under the past and move on. That project has the potential to wreck, in the way that the blocking of parades does.

Mr A Maginness: I thank everyone who was involved in the compilation of this timely report, which is worthy of Members’ reflection. We have shared a divided past, and, having done so, we deserve to share the future in harmony, peace and reconciliation. The means by which that will be achieved lie in the establishment of partnership in the Assembly and in society. All Members’ efforts and discussions should be aimed at restoring the institutions, rather than at preventing their restoration. Having listened to today’s contributions, I cannot help but feel that rather than trying to create a smooth transition to restoration, some Members have set their faces against it.

It is essential that those who suffered most in the troubles have a place in the shared future. They should be an integral part of it. That is the SDLP’s position. Those who suffered must be given a special place in society, so that they do not feel alienated from the peace process, or from the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement.

I have been saddened and disappointed by some of the contributions in the PFG Committee and on the Floor of the House, particularly from members of the DUP, who have failed to move on the victims’ issue. The SDLP has made a reasonable proposal, supported in part by the consultation process of the Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors. The proposal is for the establishment of a forum for victims, where victims can come together to address the same issues that Members addressed in the PFG Committee. It is through that mechanism that victims can create a programme for change that genuinely reflects their interests. That would be the best mechanism for progress.

However, others, and particularly the DUP, object to that proposal because, they say, progress cannot be made until “victim” is defined. The problem, which is apparent in victims’ groups and organisations, is that if we do not move from first base, we will never move. Therefore, the opposition and the insistence on a definition are wrong and contrary to victims’ interests. If we stick on that point, we will stick there forever, and we will never be able to address the interests of victims and survivors fully and satisfactorily. In holding that position, Members do a great disservice to victims.

The SDLP believes that it is important to give the victims’ forum a chance. If there is restoration, one of the first priorities of the new Executive should be establishment of a victims’ forum in order to move that process forward.

Victims in our society must be acknowledged — collectively and individually — and there are many ways of doing that. My colleague Tommy Gallagher referred to a number of groups, such as Healing Through Remembering, who tell their stories individually and collectively throughout Northern Ireland. Why can that not be done centrally? Why can we not establish a publicly funded audio-visual archive, where those who have suffered in the troubles can tell their stories and where the stories can be recorded for posterity? It would be a therapeutic process for those people who have suffered, and it would be a collective and individual recognition — officially and publicly — of that suffering.

Surely that is not something that is too sophisticated for us to establish and develop on a centralised basis? The establishment of such an archive would bring closure to a great number of families throughout Northern Ireland who continue to suffer because their suffering and the suffering of their loved ones has not been properly acknowledged.

Mrs D Dodds: Mr Maginness has explained the SDLP’s position on victims. Many of the victims that I speak to, and whom I meet frequently in my constituency, say that they want not only their situation to be acknowledged but, more importantly, to see justice for their loved ones. Will the Member elucidate further his view on justice for the victims?

Mr A Maginness: Mrs Dodds has made an interesting point. Acknowledgement is important, because people feel alienated and left behind. They also feel that there is a political process and a peace process in which they are not involved and from which they feel disconnected. We must, therefore, involve them in that process, and we must reconnect with those people. In the circumstances, where justice can be done, it should be done. We have a Police Service and courts, and an individual who is implicated by any evidence that is brought forward can be tried. It is important that that be pursued, and the SDLP does not exclude that.

The Historical Enquiries Team is looking at many cold cases and at the whole gamut of killings arising from the troubles. That is an important process. It should be maintained, properly funded and given the proper personnel, and so forth required to carry out that task.

Mr Hay: Can the Member clarify his party’s position on the definition of a victim? Does he view someone who has deliberately gone out to murder somebody as a victim?

Mr A Maginness: I do not see the perpetrator of such a crime as being a victim; I have never said that and neither has the SDLP. I ask Members to consider instances where people who are suspected of being members of paramilitary organisations are killed in controversial circumstances. Could they be viewed as victims? I think that they could be. Are the families who are affected by those killings victims? I think that they are.

There is a grey area in some of these cases, but we cannot be simplistic. We cannot say that one person is a victim and another person is not. We have all suffered. Both sides of the community have suffered grievously.

Let us not nit-pick or hoke over the ashes, as it were. We should recognise that there has been suffering, and move on.

3.30 pm

The Alliance Party proposed to the Committee that we have a proper day of reconciliation and reflection. There is some merit in that idea, yet both unionist parties — again — dismissed it, on the grounds that confidence levels in the community have not reached sufficient heights to allow for such a day. Surely the point of having a day of reflection is to try to create confidence and bring about reconciliation in our society. If we had reconciliation and true peace in our society, we would not need a day of reflection.

I was disturbed by Mr McNarry’s comments, which set the resolution of the parading issue as a prerequisite to restoration. That cannot be the case. Returning to a central point that I made, if we want to resolve some of these difficult and seemingly intractable issues, the institutions must be restored. To do otherwise is to put the cart before the horse. We want to resolve the parading issue, but it is essential that it happen locally. Unless we get local dialogue going we cannot resolve what are essentially local problems. However, we should not let local problems become so disproportionate and so all-absorbing that they distort, destroy or under­mine the process of restoration or, indeed, devolution itself. A devolved Administration is the best political context in which to solve the problems of parading. Therefore, we should work towards that.

Mr Hussey: I am aware of the clock and that I should not speak on behalf of Mr McNarry, but my recollection is that he said that a process towards resolution had to be started, not the actual resolution itself.

Mr A Maginness: I hope that the Member is right, because the terms in which Mr McNarry expressed himself seemed to me to be more absolute than that. However, I am subject to correction by Mr Hussey.

I emphasise that Members on this side of the House have confidence in the Parades Commission; we believe that it is doing a good job. That is not to say that we think it is perfect, that it cannot be improved upon or that it does not make decisions with which we disagree. Of course there are decisions that we dislike, such as the Drumcree decision the other day. We must work with the commission, which was set up to remove decision-making powers from the police in these circumstances.

The DUP proposed that the Parades Commission’s functions be divided into powers of mediation and determination. The proposed determination process was so complex as to bring about a quasi-judicial system that would fail as a result of being so bound in regulation.

The Parades Commission has at least blended the mediation and determination processes. The current situation is not perfect, but it is better than it was prior to the establishment of the commission. We must all support the Parades Commission, because doing so is the best way to resolve the outstanding problems. The Parades Commission can promote local dialogue and create a situation in which all parties are satisfied and in which local solutions to the problems that affect various communities can be found. We live in a divided society, and the parading issue simply reflects those divisions. However, if we have a partnership Admin­istration, we are in a much better position to resolve the outstanding parading issues.

Finally, as regards a bill of rights, it is important that we proceed with a round-table forum of all the parties once we establish restoration of devolution in the institutions. There is an argument that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is purely civil and political. That is not the case; the jurisprudence of the convention is much more extensive than that and deals with many social and economic issues. We can replicate that in a local, domestic bill of rights.

Mr McCarthy: I would like to record my thanks to Committee members, staff and chairpersons who worked during the summer to produce the report. I also acknowledge the decision of Peter Hain to ensure that the report was printed in the first place and the opportunity he gave us to debate the contents of the report this afternoon. We are making progress.

I will focus on community-relations issues. Over­coming the deep divisions of this society is perhaps the biggest challenge facing us all. Unless we can build a united community, it is very difficult to see how the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement can be placed on a stable and sustainable basis. Unfortunately, sectarian attitudes remain prevalent in this society. Recent studies show that children as young as three or four years old are repeating sectarian slogans, presumably picked up at home or on the streets. This is disgraceful. Worryingly, we are also seeing intense racism from some quarters. It seems to be increasing; this too is disgraceful.

To our shame, we have a higher rate of racist attacks per 100,000 people than in England and Wales. The figure produced by the NIO for 2002-03 in its hate crime consultation confirmed this. It is worth stressing the value —

Dr Birnie: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCarthy: I have only started. Give me a minute to get started first. Come back later on.

It is worth stressing the value that new migrants bring to our economy. If the truth be told, these people are probably doing jobs that local people have turned up their noses at.

Both parts of Ireland have long been exporters of people, bringing religion, Christianity, to all ends of the earth. We should be proud of that — though perhaps it would be better to concentrate on the local area.

The fact that people want to come here to work is surely an encouraging sign. We must do all to welcome them. Some of the most successful economies in the world are in diverse societies.

Northern Ireland has deeply ingrained patterns of segregation. Far too many parts of Northern Ireland are marked out by sectarian symbols as the exclusive territory of one side or the other. In some cases the provision of separate services to different sections of the community is openly the policy of the state, but in many others the provision of separate goods, facilities and services is reality and practice. This is not just an issue for the Government; it is also how businesses and voluntary associations do their work.

Segregation carries huge political, social, economic and financial costs. Far too many issues are analysed on a sectarian basis: how much one side, versus the other, is getting; because this side gets something, the other must too. What can be the political outcome of that? Unfortunately, we had to listen to that approach this morning, and more recently this afternoon. People are encouraged to think as “them” and “us” battling over resources, rather than as a community working together for the betterment of all. We should all be striving for the latter.

There are social costs, because segregation denies people opportunities to mix with one another and to develop their full potential. There are economic costs, because businesses and tourists are deterred from coming to Northern Ireland — or to particular parts of Northern Ireland. Finally, there are financial costs, because segregation leads to skewed public expenditure. The Alliance Party estimates that, each year, about £1 billion is spent on managing our divided society. A large proportion of that money goes towards providing separate goods, schools, facilities and services. The Alliance Party fully supports integrated education as a means to bring our children together and to provide a choice for parents.

With its crumbling infrastructure, the longest NHS waiting lists in the UK, and the threat of punitive rates bills and water charges, which will have a drastic effect on so many of its people, Northern Ireland can hardly afford this segregation. The Alliance Party embraces warmly the concept of a shared future. For the Alliance Party, a shared future means creating a society where people can live, learn, work and play together in safety.

People want to integrate. Time after time, opinion polls show that although an overwhelming majority of people want mixed schools, workplaces, housing and leisure facilities, they are held back by a lack of facilities and security fears.

My party welcomes the framework document ‘A Shared Future’ which was published in March 2005, and the first of the action plans, which was published in April 2006. The term “shared future” is not simply another label to repackage community-relations policies of old. It is not primarily about considering the way in which projects are funded; rather, it must be seen as a challenge to the range of policies and practices in Northern Ireland.

It is regrettable that most of the progress towards a shared future has occurred under direct rule, rather than under the local Executive of the last Assembly. There needs to be local ownership of the process. In the PFG Committee, parties were able to endorse the concept of a shared future, but I fear that, for some, that is just another slogan. When asked to endorse the Government documents, the PFG Committee could not reach consensus. Much of the debate was polarised.

On human rights, there seemed to be some consensus on the concept of a bill of rights, but I fear that that apparent consensus masks a much deeper division on what should be included in that bill of rights. Human rights are for everyone. The Alliance Party is opposed to explicit rights for unionists, nationalists or any other grouping. We are opposed to entrenching any vague parity of esteem. We are concerned about any bill of rights that would institutionalise sectarianism in Northern Ireland or entrench division, either directly or indirectly.

It is worth noting that international norms recognise a right of people not to be treated as part of a minority against their will. Similarly, on equality, the Alliance Party is committed to protecting the rights and ensuring the opportunities of every individual. We cannot, and will not, be selective. Equality is essential in order to give everyone a stake in society. For the Alliance Party, that means equality of opportunity, equality of access, equality of treatment, equality under the law, and equal citizenship.

The Alliance Party does not believe that there should be a hierarchy in equality. In Northern Ireland, equality issues are overly associated with religion and/or political identity. Discrimination or other inequalities on the grounds of gender, race, disability and sexual orientation should be of equal concern. Opportunity, a sense of belonging, and fair treatment do not exist evenly and consistently across society. Due to historical inequalities, discrimination, geography or other obstacles to participation, some individuals are more marginalised than others.

As a result, it may not be sufficient to apply good public policy generally in the hope that all sections of the community will benefit equally. The use of neutral policies does not necessarily produce neutral actions or outcomes.

Madam Speaker, there is, therefore, a case for affirmative action being taken, but we remain opposed to discrimination and the use of quotas.

3.45 pm

We support the targeting of resources towards particular disadvantaged and under-represented neighbourhoods and sections of the community.

Mr Nesbitt: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCarthy: I am pushed for time. Let me see how I get on.

Resources should be allocated on the basis of need —

Mr Kennedy: Debate.

Mr McCarthy: I have a great deal yet to say.

Resources should be allocated on the basis of need rather than on the basis of perceived religious or political affiliation. It is counterproductive always to divide people into Protestant and Catholic camps and then complain if one side seems to be doing better, more or less, than the other. Resources must be allocated on the basis of need. It is important that vacancies be filled and resources distributed on the basis of the merit of an application.

The Alliance Party opposes the use of quotas to fill vacancies or allocate resources, because that inevitably leads to individual cases of greater merit being passed over in order to address the need of someone who has been identified as belonging to a disadvantaged group. The Alliance Party is concerned that the overemphasis on equality for groups on the grounds of religion and identity further institutionalises divisions.

The Alliance Party is a long-standing advocate of fair employ­ment legislation and monitoring. Those ensure equality of opportunity and non-discrimination in the workplace. Fair employment legislation has been very successful in removing discrimination here. It has helped the country move towards having a workforce that is more representative of the entire community.

We recognise and understand the need for work­forces to be monitored; however, we have concerns about the methodology that is used to categorise people in pursuit of those objectives. The Alliance Party looks forward to the creation of a single equality Act, which would standardise and harmonise upwards equality protection on all existing grounds.

I am also concerned at how language matters have been polarised. It was mentioned not so long ago that Irish is not just a language for nationalists and Ulster Scots a language for unionists. Both should be open to all who have an interest in language. We should celebrate the rich cultural heritage that is available to us here rather than scorn what other people enjoy.

Resources should be made available to encourage the entire community to develop an interest in language. However, a word of caution must be sounded on the issue of need. When people demand the right to request written responses from the state in either Irish or Ulster Scots, they are not really seeking to address a matter of need. There are few, if any, Irish or Ulster-Scots speakers who cannot access services in English. Those who suffer are migrants to Northern Ireland whose first language is not English, or those who have little grasp of the English language. That is especially true of migrants from an older generation. Although many public bodies are trying to assist them, it is worth remembering that, when others demand the creation of language rights, those rights will do little to help migrants. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages does nothing for those whose first language is not a European language.

Finally, I wish to address the issue of the past and its legacy, which is a very complicated and multifaceted issue. Some may argue that to focus on the past is counterproductive and keeps wounds open and that society should move on. The Alliance Party disagrees with that. To address the past and its legacy is fundamental to the process of reconciliation and building a shared future. Failure to do that comprehensively and holistically is a barrier to political progress. How we handle the past has been allowed to become a source of division in society, and that has served only to create further division. That tendency can be countered only through the creation of a comprehensive approach. Efforts to deal with the past and its legacy have been piecemeal. It was a real shame that the Committee became bogged down in seeking a definition of a victim.

Some type of permanent memorial could be created. There is certainly room for creativity when it comes to dealing with the past and its legacy.

Consideration should be given to a day of remem­brance and reflection. The Committee considered that suggestion but, sadly, could not reach consensus.

An experience-telling forum should be created that would allow victims, as they define themselves, to place their testimonies, positive and negative, on the record. That could lead to some form of permanent archive.

We must never forget all the people who, throughout these islands, have suffered grievously during these long years. We have all suffered in one way or another. A long time ago, I remember turning on the radio early one morning only to hear that a young man from Portaferry, in my constituency of Strangford, had been shot down in cold blood in Newtownards as he made his way to work. That was a total waste of a young life, and it created untold suffering for the man’s family and his community — that wound is raw to this day. Over and over again, that type of suffering has been replicated — to the shame of Northern Ireland. Let us hope that no more people from these islands will have to endure such suffering. We must never forget the exiled or the disappeared. I have met relatives of exiled people and have enormous sympathy for them; we must ensure that those people are brought back to Northern Ireland.

Lord Morrow: From time to time, the Secretary of State has come in for much criticism in this Assembly.

Dr McCrea: Rightly so.

Lord Morrow: As my colleague Dr McCrea says, rightly so.

However, today I want to praise the Secretary of State and thank him for allowing us to have this debate. Had Members been depending on the system that was being used in the PFG Committee, whereby all decisions had to be unanimous, no doubt this debate would not have been held, because Sinn Féin objected vehemently to it. Sinn Féin members were involved in Committee discussions and in the preparation of the report, but they did not want it to be printed, published and debated. If Members examine the report, they will see why: it is riddled with Sinn Féin contradictions. I understand why that party would not want to debate the report.

On behalf of the DUP, I commend all those who worked hard to realise the report. I want to place on record my sincere thanks and appreciation to the staff who worked hard and played a large part in ensuring that the report came to fruition and for having it ready for today’s debate. It is a hefty report, and it touches on many important issues.

Several Members took swipes at the DUP during the debate, and I do not want to disappoint those who thought that their contributions had gone unnoticed. I want to respond in kind. I am delighted that at least one of them is in the Chamber; he is waving frantically, acknowledging that he is also delighted that I intend to refer to his speech. I will not disappoint him.

It is a pity that Mr Tommy Gallagher is not in the House. He sounds as if he has been out of the country for several years, because he does not seem to inhabit this planet at times. He said that unionist-controlled councils do not share power with nationalists.

Mr A Maginness: Some councils.

Lord Morrow: He did not use the word “some”. Unfortunately, he did not name those councils. I suspect that he got things slightly mixed up; we all do that from time to time, and Mr Gallagher is no different. He was probably thinking of Down District Council, in which the SDLP is predominant but refuses point blank to share power with unionists. That is disgraceful, and SDLP Members ought to hang their heads in shame.

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

Another Member could not help but take a whack at the DUP — Mr McNarry. I served on the PFG Committee with Mr McNarry, and no doubt he has many attributes. I would be the first to recognise and acknowledge that. However, occasionally, he suffers lapses of memory. I am sure that there are ways of treating that, and perhaps we can speak to him about it later.

Mr McNarry is in the House; I am glad to see that. I thought that he had “gone away, you know”, but I see that he has returned. Mr McNarry chided the DUP, asking whether we were now patching things up in order to carve out a deal that will enable the restoration of devolution. He wanted to know where parades have featured on our list. The answer is: infinitely higher than they appear on the Ulster Unionists’ list.

Whether Mr McNarry is guilty of this, I do not know, but his party did not seem to think that the parades issue was that important before it went into Government on three occasions with Sinn Féin/IRA. I suspect that, if his party had thought it to be important, it would have had it on its list — it might even have made it a prerequisite for devolution. Perhaps Mr McNarry’s party is now at the stage at which it is saying that resolution of the parades issue is a prerequisite, because I recall Dermot Nesbitt saying in Committee; “We are not ready to go into Government with Sinn Féin/IRA.” I know that Dermot will want to reinforce that point, and I will gladly give way to him in a moment or two.

Is that the Ulster Unionists’ position? I sincerely hope that it is, although at times the party speaks with a forked tongue and confuses us. Mr McGimpsey seemed at one point to be saying that the time was now right for devolution and that nothing would happen until devolution came about. I have no doubt that some of the Ulster Unionists will want to pick up on that point, and when they are ready to answer, I am ready to give way. Come on, Dermot; get up on your feet.

Mr Nesbitt: Our leader, Sir Reg Empey, speaks on behalf of the party. He has made it clear on many occasions that a judgement will not be made until October, when all the evidence is available. That means that no judgement can be made now. I cannot speak for any individual member of the party who may speak at any given time, but I assure Lord Morrow that this party, along with the DUP, is not ready to form a Government at this juncture.

Lord Morrow: Thank you, Mr Nesbitt. I am glad that that is on the record; it may be very useful in the coming weeks.

Mr Kennedy: Is that plain enough? Did you understand that all right?

Lord Morrow: It was quite clear.

Mr Poots: Pages 349 to 351 of the report set out the DUP’s position on parades and its analysis of where we need to go. We went to the bother of providing a written submission and making our position clear in Committee. Perhaps, in order to assist Mr McNarry, Lord Morrow can identify where the Ulster Unionist Party’s submission on parades is.

Lord Morrow: I thank the Member for that intervention.

Mr McNarry: Will the Member give way?

Lord Morrow: I will give way briefly, but this is the last time.

Mr McNarry: Does the Member agree that Mr Poots, who spoke on the parades issue, did kindly outline for us the DUP position, and that it is distinctly different from the Ulster Unionist position, which is to scrap the Parades Commission? We did not hear that from the Benches beside us.

Lord Morrow: Mr McNarry, you are taking this memory thing a bit far.

Mr McNarry: Is there a doctor in the House?

Lord Morrow: Yes, there is.

I understand that the Parades Commission was the brainchild of the North Report. I remember that that report was debated in no less a place than the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue. Lo and behold, there is bad news coming for you: your party supported the creation of the Parades Commission. You do not have to take my word for that, because you can check the minutes or Hansard from the Forum. You and I can sit down one day and go through it line by line, stroke by stroke.

Mr McNarry: What about the scrapping of it?

Lord Morrow: You will find that you are among friends when you talk that way with us, because we believe that the Parades Commission should be scrapped.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. When you refer to “you”, you are referring to the Speaker. I can assure you that I am not guilty of anything that you are accusing me of. Please direct all your comments through the Chair.

4.00 pm

Lord Morrow: That is a point well made, Mr Deputy Speaker; my apologies to you.

Mr Maginness touched on a subject that is very near and dear to unionists, and it should be near and dear to nationalists too. I do not believe that he dealt with it in a flippant way. I believe that he tried to bring sense to it; I believe that he tried to bring a degree of respect to the whole issue, and that is the issue of victims. It is a big issue for all unionists, and it is a big issue for many nationalists — I believe that it should be a big issue for all nationalists. I listened intently to what he said. He did say one thing with which I disagreed when he referred to the possible opportunity for people to have storytelling. As I said in the Committee, I prefer the term “experience relating”. That would not give the impression that this is just a mere story. For many it was a very hard and sad reality. I know that Mr Maginness did not mean it other than in that way. I merely make the point.

I say this to him and to the House today: a day of reflection has also been mentioned, but what happens after the day of reflection? A day of reflection is one thing; a day of reflection after genuine repentance is quite another. To me the two are very different. I happen to believe that if there were a day of reflection which had before it a day of repentance, he would find it easier to convince those of us who are sceptical about going down that road. I am not saying that those who push this idea — and I listened to Mr McCarthy, who I think mentioned the same thing — are not sincere when they say these things. However, they will find little support among us if they cannot urge a day of repentance first. Repentance comes first and forgiveness second. I ask them to reflect on that.

I want to come back to some of the other issues in the report, and they are important. Sadly, the Committee could not agree on what a “victim” is. The definition of “victim” is paramount. Until we decide on that we cannot move forward. I want to make it very clear that we in the DUP see a vast difference between someone who has been gunned down in a van, at home or in a place of work, and the perpetrator who did it. Then I hear an equation being drawn between the families of both: an interesting point. We must have a definition of “victim” before we can take this forward. We see it as paramount; it cannot be that a person who was blown up by his own bomb and a person who was shot dead are considered equal. My colleagues and I do not see it that way, and neither do the vast majority of law-abiding people. I include in that nationalists and unionists right across the political spectrum. They see a clear difference.

My time is flying on because I gave way on too many occasions. Being the reasonable sort of individual that I am, I do those things, and then they militate against me. However, I do want to make mention of the disappeared. They have already been referred to here today. For over 30 years some families have been waiting patiently. They have had a horrid and torrid 30 years, and the challenge that I make to Sinn Féin/IRA today is this: how many more years of torture do you feel it is going to take to satisfy your lust for torturing these families?

It is nothing short of a disgrace that families are still waiting to know the whereabouts of those who have been lost for over 30 years and who were near and dear to them. We hear a great deal about peace, but those families have had no peace: their agony goes on. We may be moving on, and Sinn Féin will be the first to stand up and say that it is ready for Government. It may be ready for Government, but it is not fit for it — it has a long way to go. Members have been told that 24 November is destiny day. That day will come and go, the rain will fall as often as ever, and the sun will shine as infrequently as ever, but anyone who is holding their breath for 24 November can forget about it. I state clearly: those people can forget about 24 November because nothing will happen.

I emphasise that the DUP is not taking Sinn Féin/IRA’s word for anything, and any Member who does not understand any part of that can jump to their feet. The DUP will judge Sinn Féin/IRA on its actions, not on what it says it does or on what two reverend gentlemen said that it did.

Mr Attwood: On behalf of the SDLP in West Belfast and in Lagan Valley, I convey our condolences to the family and colleagues of Michael Ferguson on his untimely and tragic death.

My first comments actually refer to Michael Ferguson. The single best conversation that I witnessed in the PFG Committee dealt with issues from the past. Indeed, Members should read that part of Hansard. Although Members know that very little agreement was reached, the contributions of all the parties were substantial, deeply felt and well-developed. Lord Morrow echoed some of that.

The recovery of the truth of the past was one issue that divided the parties. Some Committee members argued that we should move on and that if we did not, the past would invade the present. Other members were vague about whether paramilitaries should co-operate in full with a truth-recovery process, which some members demanded of state agencies. However, other members argued that the recovery of truth was one-sided and centred only on the actions of the state.

In a way this debate is academic. Unless the parties here and elsewhere decide on and define the issue now, others will define it for everybody in the North in a way that will be deeply uncomfortable to the majority of people. We can talk about days of reflection or days of redemption, and we can talk about story telling or sharing experiences, but the truth is that issues on dealing with the past are being decided elsewhere as we speak. Unless parties —and victims — collectively pull together their efforts to decide the best way to deal with the past, it will be defined in a negative and backward way.

The SDLP believes that unless there is agreement on the model of truth recovery and that that model has a moral basis, our community will not be able to move forward. If we do not address that now, we will live with the consequences for decades and generations.

We need to learn that lesson and can do so by stepping outside the North for a moment. After thousands were massacred in Srebrenica, important efforts were made to recover and identify bodies and tell the story of that atrocity. However, a couple of years ago a citizen living in Srebrenica at that time told me that the older citizens of the area who had lived there and survived the Second World War sought the truths of what they had experienced in those years. President Tito suppressed those truths after the end of the Second World War.

Following the massacre of recent years, the Second World War generation in Srebrenica wanted to talk about the truth of the war years and not solely about the atrocity they had just experienced. They wanted to know about Nazi collaborators and the truth of that awful period of their history. If we conclude that we can simply move on without a moral basis, we run the risk in decades to come of visiting the experience of the older citizens of Srebrenica — of truths suppressed, truths not faced up to and of truths that come back to haunt us.

Of course, there must be care not to apply the lessons of other conflicts or the history of other places strictly to this place and to this conflict. We have to acknowledge that some good work in dealing with the past is being done. The Historical Enquiries Team, a range of survivors and victims organisations and other initiatives are all part of the way forward. The SDLP believes that a more dedicated effort is needed to create a full and inclusive truth recovery mechanism. It must be done now, because if it is not, it will be left to those who most wish to avoid a spotlight on the past — those elements in the British system and in the IRA leadership who conspired together to produce the “on the runs/state killings” proposals, engineered to deny the truth of the past, marginalize victims and survivors and protect the guilty.

As this Assembly faces its final days, the SDLP urges all the parties to agree one final contribution on the issues of victims and survivors and to do so in the St Andrews talks. The contribution would be to agree to a proposal for a victims’ forum, structured in whatever way they choose, to work up a model of truth recovery for their needs and for all our needs.

The model will be imperfect; but better that than leaving issues about the truth of the past to go unaddressed. Questions will remain unanswered, but better that than leaving those in the state and in illegal groups who have questions to answer never to be asked to account for their actions. A sense of injustice will endure; but better that than leaving the past to be defined by a deal done by the IRA in Downing Street in their shared “on the runs/state killings” proposals, which leaves families, groups and victims with nothing but a sense of injustice.

The SDLP says to everyone here: if we do not work up a proposal for dealing with the past, others will work it up for us. We learned last year how that was defined by the IRA and the British state — a process that denied the truth, suppressed justice and did not even have the moral basis of having the guilty stand in open court. The most courageous voices have been those of the victims and survivors. That is how it should be, because they carry the deepest pain and the deepest wisdom. We should rely on a victims’ forum to work through, with difficulty and pain, how best to recover the truth of the past. That is what we should do at St Andrews.

I also wish to comment on our discussions about parades. I rebut and deny the serious allegations made against my colleague Declan O’Loan. I was not here to hear those allegations; I have been told what was said. It is outrageous that someone who has made a contribution in that area — as we all know, at some personal sacrifice — should be demeaned and defamed in the way that he was in this Assembly.

Though I know that the SDLP will differ greatly with David McNarry and others on the subject of the Parades Commission, I wish to make some comments on that matter.

4.15 pm

Regardless of whether the institutions of Government are restored, mechanisms will be required to deal with contentious parades next year and in the following years as, over time, procedures to resolve local disputes are agreed. Although the SDLP, as Alban Maginness outlined, has had profound differences with several determinations made by the Parades Commission, the party has publicly and consistently called for everyone, in the best interests of the people in the North, to accept them.

While I am on the Floor of the House, I want to put down some markers in advance of the October negotiations leading to the November deadline and thereafter. Given that the Parades Commission is currently conducting a review of its procedures, and in the context of the wider political situation, the SDLP has sent out warnings to the commission and to the British Government.

The SDLP is concerned that the Parades Commission, and parading matters in general, are now in play in order to satisfy narrow needs and seek quick fixes. Both objectives are deeply prejudicial to the integrity of the commission and to adopting the correct approach to parading issues. A body of evidence on, and a broader perception of, the issue support my contention. There are concerns relating to the appointment of members to the present commission and to the unpicking by the current commission of non-negotiable principles of dialogue that informed key decisions taken by previous commissions. There is a sense that bad practice by a marching Orange Order has been rewarded, particularly given the continued failure of the Orange Order to engage directly and respectfully with the Parades Commission. The commission did not completely understand the corporate intentions of the Orange Order. There is an impression that the commission’s current level of independence is neither what it should be, nor what it was.

That forms part of the backdrop to the current review of procedures by the Parades Commission. It gives rise to a concern that the commission, in its conclusions, or the British Government, in its response to the review, may reshape the Parades Commission, thus jeopardising the achievements of the first and second commissions. Moreover, the wider political approach adopted by the British Government on a range of issues, whereby core matters are subjected to barter or concession in an effort to jolly along the political process, is potentially hostile to the integrity of the Parades Commission.

Given those circumstances, the SDLP holds firm views on how the Parades Commission should act after the review. In particular, the SDLP is concerned at the suggestion beginning to circulate that certain marching Orange Order parades deemed to be non-contentious should be de-scheduled and no longer be subject to the authority of the commission. Whatever model of de-scheduling may be proposed, the SDLP opposes it.

In addition to objecting in principle, there are other substantial grounds for our opposition. The general parading environment is not amenable to such develop­ments, and the present political context means that any de-scheduling proposal may end up as part of a bartering process and become enlarged in a manner that reworks the best practice for parades. It is undesirable that the police should become the primary agency in relation to certain marching parades, and there is potential for the abuse of power. Experience shows that a parade can go from being non-contentious to contentious.

Therefore, the SDLP today puts on record that the Parades Commission and the British Government should keep the door firmly closed on any de-scheduling proposal. Once the door has been opened, the danger is that the approach may become extended in a deeply unhelpful manner. Therefore, the SDLP urges the Parades Commission, during its deliberations on the review, to assert its independence and to legislate against the potential risks that have been detailed. We urge the commission to be mindful of the doubts that now exist about the independence and authority of the current commission and to constrain its considerations to strictly procedural matters.

There are other matters of which the Parades Commission should be mindful, but today I will mention only its weekend determination on the Garvaghy Road parade. That determination indicated that the commission may be developing an approach, whereby, independent of any proposal to de-schedule those parades deemed to be non-contentious, it may bring about, managerially, a similar outcome by making no determination about a parade deemed to be contentious. That was the initial approach of the commission in respect of the 3,000-day parade on the Garvaghy Road.

The SDLP is concerned that that may become, by stealth, the practice of the commission in relation to future parades that it deems to be contentious. Such an approach is damaging, because it misunderstands the emotions and electricity that surround potentially contentious parades. The nature and history of those parades mean that strict requirements must be laid down and must be seen to be laid down. Failure to issue a determination in such cases leaves too much that is vague and results in excessive risk, as the High Court identified in its judicial review on the Garvaghy Road parade.

(Madam Speaker in the Chair)

Secondly, a contentious parade that is without determination places a particular burden on the PSNI — a role that it does not seek and should not acquire. The commission will make a grave error if it begins to widen the approach that was adopted with regard to the Orange Order parade last Saturday, as it is not a response that can be rigorously applied to contentious matters, and it is ill-conceived with regard to the heightened role of the PSNI.

Thirdly, to adopt the approach of not issuing determinations on matters that are contentious is inconsistent with the approach of the Orange Order, which has shifted little in its attitude to the commission and on the requirement for respectful relations with the community. It still fails to accept the principle of direct, sustained and genuine dialogue. The SDLP warns the British Government and the Parades Commission that if they do not open doors in coming days and weeks — with regard either to the review of procedures or to how contentious parades are handled — the community in the North will have to regret and live with that for years to come.

Dr McCrea: This debate goes right to the very heart of the feelings of the community, which must be taken seriously. My colleague Mrs Diane Dodds made a powerful speech on the inequality experienced by the Protestant community in west Belfast and certain parts of north Belfast. Many of us could cite instances of inequality throughout many parts of the Province. Many unionist people feel isolated in the community. If the Review of Public Administration gains momentum, as is intended, those people will feel even more isolated.

However, unionism is more confident today that it has been before. Unionism stands on its own feet and is not willing to lie down and be trampled over any more. Unionists must be proud of that, because for too long their voice has been completely ignored and their rights completely denied. I want to congratulate the unionist community for its resilience in the midst of that most bloodthirsty, vicious, sectarian campaign that has been waged against them in the past 35 years. Protestants right across the Province — particularly those living in isolated areas along the border — were targeted in a deliberate genocide, the purpose of which was to wipe out that community and to push the border back. Anyone who denies that has closed their eyes completely to reality and adds insult to the injury of those people.

One of the report’s conclusions is:

“That all parties stress their commitment to building a shared future.”

Many in the community will never be able to share that future. I want to put on record my thoughts for the families of those who have suffered grievously during 35 years of a bloodthirsty campaign by the Provisional IRA, which was anarchy and rebellion against the lawful authority of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to the members of the security forces and to the B-Specials who, for years, patrolled the roads for nothing: they even had to pay for buttons for their own tunics.

I pay tribute to the UDR, the RUC GC and its Reserve, the gallant members of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), and the PSNI. For years, they wore their uniforms with pride while a bloodthirsty, vile campaign was waged against them, especially in border areas. The community owes them a great debt of gratitude, and we need to put that on record.

We talk about a shared future, but many people were murdered simply because they were Protestant. Members of the RUC and the UDR were murdered regardless of whether they were Protestant or Roman Catholic. Their religious tag did not matter. They wore the uniforms of the Crown, therefore, they were identified as enemies of republicans and were butchered. Some victims’ bodies were cut asunder. I recall a murder near Cooks­town in which a young man was tortured, and the Provisional IRA cut his body asunder, piece by piece.

I understand what Patricia Lewsley meant when she said that we must leave the past behind, but we must ensure that we face up to what happened then, because a community that does not learn lessons from the past will replicate what was done then. We must learn the sad lessons of the past and consider the suffering that some families went through.

Yesterday, some Members met a delegation from the Presbyterian Church. A minister made a poignant statement about a senior member of his congregation who recently died. That woman’s son had been a member of the security forces and was murdered by the IRA. Until the day that she died, she sought simply one thing — justice. She was not filled with hatred or bitterness, nor did she seek revenge. She carried her broken heart with grace in her search for justice.

In many ways, the Belfast Agreement denied justice to the people of Northern Ireland, because the doors were opened to some of the most vicious murderers. They were sent back into the community, and some of them returned to terrorise the communities from which they came. Therefore we should not paint the picture that all is well.

I despise those who equate murderers with their victims. It is insulting to suggest that someone going out with murder in their heart, and who is stopped in their tracks by security forces and shot, can somehow be equated to the would-be murder victim. Someone who is butchered to death while sitting innocently at home in a republican community cannot be equated to their murderer. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more add insult to those people’s injury.

People say that we should express our feelings and bury the crimes, but no one is suggesting that the crimes in Kosovo should be buried. The perpetrators of those crimes are being sought so that they can be brought before the International Court of Justice. Some of the Sinn Féin/IRA leaders should be brought before the International Court of Justice for planning crimes, as should those who carried out crimes in Serbia and elsewhere. That will not do for some: we are expected to brush those matters aside and whitewash the situation as though it were not reality.

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

4.30 pm

Dr McCrea: No, I will not.

It is right that those who carried out genocide against the Protestant community along the border should be brought before a court of justice just like everyone else. Everyone should be equal under the law and equally subject to the law, and that goes for the unionist and Protestant community as well as for the nationalist, republican or Roman Catholic community. I want to make it abundantly clear that no one in this country should be treated differently.

There was a rebellion against the state for more than 30 years — a deliberate, manufactured rebellion was purposely carried out against lawful authority. Those who carried out that rebellion against the people of this community should be brought to proper justice, and those who led it should be brought before the European Court of Human Rights or the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Those people should be dealt with appropriately. I am not willing to brush this matter under the carpet. The SDLP may not like that, but I do not care — we must face the truth and the truth shall set us free. I would rather tell it exactly as it is, even though some people are unfortunately not willing to do that.

The amazing thing is that people travel miles to be insulted by a parade. A couple of years ago, a feeder parade in Maghera was disrupted before it made its way to an Apprentice Boys’ march in Londonderry. Was it the people of Maghera who came to burn the bread van? Not at all — those who did so travelled from other places to be insulted because that is what they do.

Were the majority of the protestors at the Garvaghy Road parade from the Garvaghy Road? Not at all, and the photographs show that. Some were from Belfast — they were bussed in to be insulted by the parade. Those protestors then try to tell us that they are serious. They are not serious; if they were, they would deal with the situation. The orangemen at the Drumcree parade have a right to go to their church service and they have a right to get home from it. If SDLP members want to align themselves with those who oppose that parade, so be it, but they should not pretend that we can have a shared future.

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

Dr McCrea: The Member should settle himself. He has yet to speak; he will have his 15 minutes of glory.

Do not try to make us believe that somehow there is a shared future. The truth is that the protestors do not want an orange foot on the road. If they could get away with it, they would not let one orange foot on the road, so much do they despise the orangemen and their institution. The Drumcree parade will have to be settled; orangemen have a right to return from their church service to their orange hall as they have done for 100 years.

I live beside the town of Desertmartin, which is 98% Protestant. An Ancient Order of Hibernians’ parade is held in Desertmartin — do the people of Desertmartin believe in the Ancient Order of Hibernians or want such a parade in their town? Not at all. However, do they come out on the streets to be insulted by it? Not at all. I will tell Members what they do: they sit and have their cup of tea. They do not come out and insult people. Those who want to be a part of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and who want to parade have the liberty to walk the road. Of course, we are expected to accept that, but we are also expected to accept that we have no right to walk the Queen’s highway. However, we do have rights, and this Committee report is about rights.

Some people have been demanding human rights under different legislation. However, some of those campaigners will find that this matter will come home to roost for them because the unionist population will claim its rights. The unionist people are now on their feet, standing up for their human rights, and nobody will deny them those rights in future. Those rights belong to the entire community, but this matter has been “sectionalised” and a part of this community has been denied its rights.

The families of the disappeared are not even permitted to buy their dead.

In the Committee on the Preparation for Govern­ment, Conor Murphy said in relation to activities carried out after its statement of 26 July 2006:

“If the IRA engaged in any activities before it issued that instruction, I would not consider that to be a crime”.

In his view, therefore, the shooting of Mrs McConville was not a crime. Yet, his party is supposed to be ready for Government.

As my hon Friend Lord Morrow said, some may close their eyes to what has happened in this country and others may accept being second-class citizens, but the unionist population will not take second place any longer. It is the majority community in this country and has a right to be treated with respect. Sinn Féin is not fit for Government. Anyone who likes may try to wash Sinn Féin white, but that party has a long way to go before anyone can accept that it is ready for Government or that its members are true democrats.

There was a hullabaloo when my party leader talked about the Provos having to repent in sackcloth and ashes. So what? The Provos left many an innocent person in ashes and sackcloth. The families of those innocent people have been grieving for them for the past 30 years. The DUP wants a shared future, but let us be honest about the situation and learn the lessons of the past. God forbid that we ever replicate what our community has endured for the past 30 years.

Mr Dallat: Madam Speaker, I do not rise to claim 15 minutes of glory; I want to make a positive contribution to a debate. I begin by condemning the people who attacked the home of my colleague Pat Ramsey in Derry. They do not believe in democracy.

Dr McCrea’s impassioned speech would have conveyed greater meaning to me had he never appeared on a platform with Billy Wright. That one incident demolishes everything that he says. As a young person in years past, I listened to daily news bulletins reporting the deaths of nationalists in Mid Ulster. I wish that Dr McCrea had put the same passion into his condemnations of those murders.

Dr McCrea: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to read carefully the words that I said. Some time ago, in a radio report, I condemned murders of members of the Roman Catholic community not only in Mid Ulster, but throughout the Province — not half-heartedly, but unreservedly. I ask you, Madam Speaker, to protect Members’ reputations. I will be studying carefully what happens.

Madam Speaker: If you had been in the Chamber this morning, Dr McCrea, you would know that I advised Members to read Hansard.

Mr Dallat: I simply regret that the same level of passion was not evident to me as a young person.

Let us hope that we can concentrate on what unites us rather than on what divides us, and that we can build anew. That is what partnership must be about. Perhaps I am wrong — I hope that I am not — but I believe that there is a wind of change. It is perhaps not a sweeping wind, but it is certainly rustling through the community, calling for dialogue and recovery. Evidence of that was witnessed at a public meeting in east Belfast recently.

What greater challenge is there than to identify a common purpose, rather than a divisive purpose that gets us nowhere? There is a dearth of positive thinking in the House today, and an affirmative approach to the issues addressed in the report is lacking. However, it is not too late. I ask the DUP to reflect, settle down and listen to what I have to say.

I am not suggesting that we should forget the past and ignore the victims. I am sorry that Dr McCrea has to grin during my speech, but I am sure that the cameras will tell that. We must remember all the victims. We can create a living memorial — not granite, although I do not rule that out — to the victims of the past 35 dark and dreadful years. That can bring hope, indeed sunshine, to a new generation that has the task of identifying and addressing all the issues of inequality wherever they arise.

Some years ago, a cross-party delegation of Members — including one from the DUP, although he is not a member of the party any more — visited Dresden in Germany where they learnt at first hand of the fateful night in April 1945 when Allied planes killed 350,000 people. Despite the horrors of that time, Dresden is now a thriving city full of hope for the future. The first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since the war received their holy orders in Dresden this month.

During that trip we visited other parts of the former East Germany, and we were introduced to a peace group that is still discussing the horrors of the First World War. Members will appreciate that it is a long process. Members have a choice to make; we can harbour bitterness, or we can grasp the challenge and give leadership. That may not lead us to a promised land, but it will, very likely, drag us out of the quagmire in which we too often find ourselves.

Much has been made of the rights of orange bands to parade. It may interest the Members opposite to hear that when an orange band paraded with an hibernian band in Kilrea some years ago, its members were not exactly embraced by those who shout loudest for the right to parade. Rather, the practice ceased; but the question remains. Why was it unacceptable that two bands from different backgrounds should parade together in an innocent festival that brought people together, many of whom were victims of the troubles?

Nothing would please me more than that we could recapture that wonderful moment in history in a small town that was rebuilding itself after the horrors of a sustained bombing campaign.

In the weeks and months ahead, the challenges “will not go away you know”, to reuse the hackneyed phrase that has been used a few times here today. Whether we agree to work a new Assembly or not, the painful process of building peace and reconciliation will continue. I can assure the DUP that there are enough people out there to do it.

In that respect the DUP has promised its voters a great revival. How can there be a revival if its members will not sit in the Assembly and challenge their adver­saries? That is the real challenge facing all unionists. There are also serious challenges facing Sinn Féin and its approach to the future. Members’ contributions today have not convinced me that the desire to put the past behind them is evident. That does not augur well for the immediate future. I am suggesting not that they should forget the past, but that they should learn from it.

I do not want to follow the pessimistic mood of the debate. I prefer to stay out of that rut, because a journey of that kind serves no one and fails everyone, particularly the victims. That is not to say that we should ignore inequality. However, efforts to eradicate inequality must not be portrayed as some kind of threat. It is far from that. Efforts to redress inequality in housing, education, health and employment — and there are many of those — are not a threat. Nor should they be processes that create fear. If we can reach agreement on the processes that will address those inequalities, we will have moved forward significantly and, in doing so, created a firewall against any renewed threat of political instability.

Violence and the threat of violence did no favours for either community. It did no favours for unionism, and it did nothing to enhance my vision of a new Ireland free from partition and at the forefront of building a new Europe.

Dresden is a long time away, and the unity of Europe will ensure that the events of that tragic night will not happen again. There must be a new beginning and a new opportunity in which to create it. Much of Dresden lay in ruins for more than 30 years, but it is now rebuilt.

Do not turn the clock back. Let us build anew, because the past is our present to the future.

4.45 pm

Mr Nesbitt: I have a genuine question for the Member, Madam Speaker.

Mr Dallat: I am glad to hear that.

Mr Nesbitt: The Member should not provoke me, because there are some things that I could say. He talked about a new Europe. John Hume has often talked of standing on the bridge between France and Germany, and how those countries have built the new Europe. One of the central tenets of the new Europe is that borders and cross-border co-operation are recognised, as are the sacrosanct integrity of the state and the rule of the law. Does the Member not concur that the wish of his Sinn Féin fellow travellers in Irish nationalism for a new, united Ireland mirrors the old Europe of the 1930s, when the wish of the Germans of the Sudetenland for a new Germany caused the bloodshed of Dresden?

Mr Dallat: Madam Speaker, the new Europe that John Hume and I believe in is one without borders. I am happy to report that I was recently in the divided island of Cyprus. Its borders are coming down, and it is now possible to visit both parts of the island.

I hope that we have gone a long way beyond that and can convince the two great communities here to live together on one island free from the sectarianism of the past — irrespective of from where it came. I have no doubt that if we achieve that, the Rev McCrea will have a long and happy retirement, because he will be redundant.

Dr McCrea: That must be a long time off, because I have no intention of retiring. [Laughter.]

Mr Dallat: Do not count on it. [Laughter.]

Question put and agreed to.


That the Assembly notes the work of the Committee on the Preparation for Government and the report on Rights; Safeguards; Equality Issues and Victims.

Madam Speaker: I shall refer the decision of the Assembly to the Secretary of State.

Adjourned at 4.47 pm.

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