Official Report (Hansard)

Assembly Business

Public Petition: Pinewood Residential Care Home

Ministerial Statements

North/South Ministerial Council: Tourism

North/South Ministerial Council: Trade and Business Development

Private Members’ Business

Mutual Respect and Reconciliation

Oral Answers to Questions

Agriculture and Rural Development

Culture, Arts and Leisure

Private Members’ Business

Mutual Respect and Reconciliation (Continued)

Compensation Policy

Adjournment

Road Infrastructure: Beechfield and Ashfield Estates, Donaghadee

 

Assembly Business

Public Petition: Pinewood Residential Care Home

Mr Speaker: Mr Frew has sought leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22.  The Member will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject.

Mr Frew: In delivering this petition to you this morning, I speak on behalf of the residents, their family members and the population of north Antrim.  At the outset, I want to say that I am not here in this place to fight for buildings, institutions or establishments; I am here in this place to fight for the people of north Antrim and the services that this Assembly, this Executive and this Government provide to them.  I am here today to hand in a petition on behalf, and in support, of Pinewood Residential Care Home, which provides an excellent service to the people of north Antrim and further afield.  It provides residential care, rehabilitation and respite care to the most needy and vulnerable.

I have heard nothing throughout the debates over the past number of months to suggest that Pinewood Residential Care Home should close.  It is inevitable that residential care homes will close as buildings grow tired and old, but Pinewood Residential Care Home in Ballymena is not one of those homes.  The excellent facility that it is and the service that it provides to the people of the area mean that it should not be closed in the near or distant future.  

People will play politics with this issue, but I am very clear that I am here for the people of north Antrim and Pinewood.  I am here to do what they will and to fight for this home.

Consultations are ongoing.  I am certainly not of the mind that Pinewood should close.  Pinewood should be enhanced.  Shame on the trust, because, for the past five years, it has wound the facility down.  It has prevented people from moving into Pinewood.  It has wound it down deliberately so that it would be easier to close at a future date; that is totally and utterly unacceptable.  I call on the trust to reverse that trend and open the doors of Pinewood to let people in for residential care, rehabilitation and respite.  Pinewood can be a real value to the community as it is, and it could be an even greater facility to the people of north Antrim.

Mr Frew moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.

Mr Speaker: I will forward the petition to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and send a copy to the Chair of the Health Committee.

Ministerial Statements

North/South Ministerial Council: Tourism

Mrs Foster (The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment): With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement in compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 regarding a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format.  The meeting was held in Armagh on 26 June 2013.  Minister John O’Dowd MLA and I represented the Northern Ireland Executive.  The Irish Government were represented by Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who chaired the meeting.  This statement has been agreed with Minister O’Dowd, and I make it on behalf of both of us.

Tourism Ireland's chairperson, Mr Brian Ambrose, and its CEO, Mr Niall Gibbons, updated Ministers on the work of the Tourism Ireland board, including the implementation of the 2013 business plan and the development of the corporate plan 2014-16.  Ministers noted the ongoing challenges and competitive environment for international tourism arising from global economic conditions.  The CEO made a presentation to Ministers on market performance to date in 2013.  The Council noted the marketing campaign highlights for 2013, in particular the worldwide campaigns for the UK City of Culture 2013, the Jump into Northern Ireland showcase at the European Parliament, and the global greening initiative around St Patrick’s Day.

Tourism Ireland is developing its corporate plan for 2014-16.  Themes identified to date include enhancing brand knowledge and relevance; driving consumer engagement; capitalising and building on Northern Ireland’s strengths; building successful partnerships and alliances; focusing resources to compete and win; harnessing the power of digital marketing; and developing meaningful metrics to provide direction for investment.  The Council noted Tourism Ireland’s annual report and accounts for 2012 and approved the body’s business plan and budget for 2013.  Ministers also approved the Special EU Programmes Body's business plan for 2013.

Mr McGlone (The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a ráiteas.  Thanks to the Minister for her statement.  I want to ask her about the Tourism Ireland board and the development of its corporate plan.  What targets are being put in place to measure the success of those corporate plan themes?

Mrs Foster: I thank the Chairman for his question.  As he will know, the targets in the corporate plan reflect our Programme for Government tourism targets.  I am pleased to say that we have met a number of those targets over the past year.  We have exceeded the target for revenue spends.  Take the GB market, for example.  The 2012 visitor numbers target was 1·66 million, and we had 1·56 million, so that target was not achieved.  However, the target for the amount of money spent by those visitors was achieved and, indeed, exceeded.  That target was £390 million, and, in reality, £418 million was spent.  In respect of the Republic of Ireland market, we had 0·43 million visitors against a target of 0·352 million and we had revenue well in excess of the target.  The target was £44 million and the revenue was £70 million.  So the Republic of Ireland market is a very good market for us at present. 

What is pleasing about the GB market is that we have been able to grow our revenue.  Though we would like to have seen more people visiting, I think that that is reflective of the GB market in general.  Indeed, Visit Britain indicated that it had 1% downturn last year in respect of those visiting even within their own jurisdiction.  So, the GB market has retracted significantly, and it will be a while before it comes up to where it was previously.

So, targets are being met, and we are pleased to see that, albeit that the GB market remains a challenge.

Mr Newton: I thank the Minister for her statement and, indeed, overall, the very good work that is being done in this area.  I wonder whether the Minister could make some comment around:

"harnessing the power of digital marketing".

Does she think that we are making as much use of that as we could?  Are we realising the potential of that whole digital area?

Mrs Foster: I am very pleased to tell the House that that is very much so with respect to Tourism Ireland.  Among tourist bodies across the world — that is not a small area — we are number two in digital penetration.  That is across a number of platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and all the newer platforms with which, it has to be said, I am not completely au fait.

I was with our chief executive officer (CEO) last week in New York and Canada, and he was very clear that we have really harnessed digital media in a very meaningful way.  That has helped with our penetration into some of those markets in which, ordinarily, we would not have had a great presence.  So, I am very pleased to report that, yes, we are very much enhancing the use of social media in respect of Tourism Ireland.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: I thank you, Minister, for the statement, particularly for the identification of the themes of the corporate plan.  In relation to visitors from the Twenty-six Counties, which was clearly identified as a key growth area, may I ask what is being done to market it?  Do we have an actual number for the visitors to the North as a result of the ni2012 campaign?

Mrs Foster: Of course, you are right to mention ni2012 because it was a huge success for us in Northern Ireland.  With respect to Republic of Ireland visitors, that is not the responsibility of Tourism Ireland but of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.  Visitors from the Republic of Ireland market in 2012 were up by 19 percentage points to 70,000.  That is a very significant increase, and I think that it is down to the fact that we spent considerable time marketing the wide range of events that happened in 2012.  We have seen the benefit of that, particularly in events such as the Irish Open and smaller events, perhaps, such as the Beckett Festival.  As we all know, the Titanic centre has welcomed its millionth visitor.  Of course, those visitors were not just from the Republic of Ireland, although there has been an increase in visitors from that area coming up to Belfast and indeed around.  The Titanic visitor centre has had 145 countries represented in it over this past year.  I think that that is a tremendous achievement for everybody down at Titanic Belfast, and we will of course work with them to grow that number in the future.

The Member herself, coming from the city of Londonderry, will know that events play a huge role in attracting people to particular parts of Northern Ireland.  We have seen her city really rise to the challenge over this past year, with a number of events that have brought visitors to the city, including the fleadh and the Walled City Tattoo, and we look forward to the rest of the year, which includes hosting the Turner Prize and Lumiere.  Those will be standout events for that city and region.  We look forward to those as well.

Mrs Overend: I thank the Minister for her statement and the information that she has presented to us this morning in answer to the other questions.  I note with interest that Tourism Ireland is developing its corporate plan for 2014-16.  I wonder whether the Minister could outline when she expects to have her Department's tourism strategy and action plan finalised and published.

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Mrs Foster: As the Member knows, we have moved away from an actual tourism strategy and moved to priorities for action, and, indeed, she will know that that has been with the Executive for a considerable period.  I very much look forward to receiving it out of the Executive.  If she thinks that it is holding us back with regard to tourism, I can tell her that it is not.  I said to her on many occasions that actions speak a lot louder than strategies, and I am very pleased that we have been able to roll out some significant events over the past couple of years, particularly this year.  We look forward to huge events next year.  The Giro d'Italia is going to be a marvellous spectacle of road racing in Belfast, Armagh and all around the country.  I will be announcing the route for the Giro d'Italia in October.  The Tall Ships race comes back to Belfast in 2015, and we look forward to that event as well.

Mr Lunn: I thank the Minister for her statement.  It refers to the marketing campaign highlights, one of which was the Jump into Northern Ireland showcase.  I hope that I am not the only one here who has no idea what that is.  However, I particularly want to ask her about "The Gathering", which is perhaps the biggest marketing campaign of the year on an all-Ireland basis.  Have we had any discernible spin-off from that campaign in the North so far?

Mrs Foster: I am sorry that the Member is not aware of the Jump into Northern Ireland showcase; maybe that shows that there needs to be more communication.  It was an event in Brussels that was hosted by Diane Dodds MEP.  We were able to attract a huge number of people to have a look at and to experience what was happening in Northern Ireland.  I cannot recall the date of it.  I think it was in February/March; it was certainly before the G8 summit.  Yes, it was in February, before the G8 summit, because part of the whole plan at that time was to put Northern Ireland out there as the home of the G8 summit, and we did that very effectively.  So, the Jump into Northern Ireland event was very good.

As I said many times in the House, "The Gathering" is an initiative by the Republic of Ireland's Government around not only tourism but economic development.  We wait to see how that has gone for them.  I also said on many occasions that, if we were to gain any benefit from that initiative, we would, of course, welcome it.

Mr Dunne: I thank the Minister for her statement.  Can she advise on what has been done to improve the uptake of more airlines operating into Northern Ireland in our three airports: the international, Belfast city and, indeed, Londonderry airport?

Mrs Foster: I thank the Member for his question.  I said many times in the House that our first priority must be to achieve a route back into Canada.  We had two airlines into the Belfast International Airport until 2009 but, unfortunately, both pulled out.  We really need to get that route back in place again.  Perhaps we do not have the capacity to put it on every day of the week, but I think that there is certainly a very strong argument for putting it in place at least a couple of times a week.  I had the opportunity to speak with a Canadian airline when I was in Canada on Friday.  We will keep pushing at that particular door, because we believe that it is a very good prospect for us.

Of course, I was delighted yesterday to hear that easyJet has announced two new routes to Jersey and Bordeaux.  We always welcome new connectivity, whether for tourism or for business links.  We will keep working with all the airports to see whether there are any other opportunities for us, but, for me, the primary route at present is Canada.  We would also very much like to see a route into Germany, and we are working on that.

Mr A Maginness: I thank the Minister for her statement.  The statement is, of course, self-explanatory regarding Tourism Ireland, but could the Minister give her assessment of where we are with regard to developing tourism in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland, because Ireland really is a single destination in the minds of many international tourists?  What is her view of that for the future?

Mrs Foster: My view is predicated on the fact that, from a Northern Ireland perspective, we need more air access.  There is no doubt about that, and that is why I have made it a priority in tourism policy.  At present, we are trying to attract visitors either from the GB mainland, if they arrive as UK visitors, or those who arrive into Dublin so that we can attract them up to the wider Northern Ireland and make their visit very attractive.

The fact that some of the tour groups in the Republic of Ireland are putting Northern Ireland on the agenda has been of great benefit to us.  We need to see more of that, and we need to see not just the Titanic centre being taken in by those tour operators but the wider Northern Ireland.  That, of course, is a job of work for us to engage in.

The work that was mentioned in the economic pact about looking at a visa that works both ways — in other words, if people arrive into Ireland without a UK visa they can come into Northern Ireland — is an important piece of work.  The Member will know that if you have a UK visa you can go into the Republic of Ireland, but it does not work in the other direction.  We need to see that working its way through to make sure that as many visitors as possible come up here to Northern Ireland.  We now have the product and the events in Northern Ireland.  We have, as the Tourist Board's new strategy tells us, the experiences for people to come.  Therefore, we really need to deal with that visa issue.

Mr Dallat: I welcome the statement and enthusiastically support the Minister in talking up our tourist industry.  The corporate plan for 2014-16 makes interesting reading. I would like to ask the Minister in particular about:

"developing meaningful metrics to provide direction for investment."

Would she agree that, although we have had our short-term gains, such as the Titanic centre, the Irish Open, the City of Culture and so on, we need to focus now very carefully on our long-term investment and persuade those people who have still got money to invest it in tourism and the development of the River Bann and many other aspects of tourism that have enormous potential?

Mrs Foster: I would not say that the Titanic centre is a short-term investment.  The fact that we had the Irish Open here at Royal Portrush last year said an awful lot about our capacity to hold such events.  Indeed, I hope that the golfing world was watching very carefully because it was a very successful event.  That was true not just in terms of the enjoyment of those people who came to watch it but of the logistics of the event, which were second to none.  I believe that it sent out a very positive message.

With all events, it is about the legacy that they leave behind.  We have seen that right across Northern Ireland.  The Titanic centre will be here for a long time to come, but if the Member is suggesting that we need to work harder in providing more regional product I would fully support him in that.

I very much want the Titanic centre to act as a catalyst to bring people to Northern Ireland.  The important thing is that we get people out across Northern Ireland because tourism is an industry that operates right across Northern Ireland, and we need to build it up in areas that, perhaps, do not have as strong an infrastructure as that of some of our cities.

Mr Allister: I note that one of the themes of the upcoming corporate plan is "enhancing brand knowledge and relevance".  What assurance can the Minister give us that Northern Ireland will get a fairer crack of the whip when it comes to brand knowledge and relevance?

Very often — indeed, it was my experience this summer when visiting North America — I talk to people who say that they see lots of adverts about Connemara, Kinsale, Dublin and the west of Ireland but seldom see adverts about Northern Ireland.  Are we going to continue to be sold short under the new branding in the new corporate plan?

Mrs Foster: I do not accept that we are being sold short.  Indeed, part of the ni2012 campaign was to give us that particular standout, not just in our closest markets but right across the world.  I pushed that very hard with Tourism Ireland, and it has delivered the numbers.

The Jump into Northern Ireland campaign was previously known as Jump into Ireland.  We now have a Jump into Northern Ireland brand.

I was very pleased to see that being used at a play in New York last Thursday.  The Lyric Theatre was putting on 'Brendan at the Chelsea', and the Jump into Northern Ireland brand was on the front of the programme.  So the answer is yes:  Northern Ireland is a very strong brand.  I will continue to push it and to ensure that Tourism Ireland pushes it as well.

North/South Ministerial Council: Trade and Business Development

Mrs Foster (The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment): With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement in compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 regarding a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in trade and business development sectoral format.  The meeting was held at the offices of the North/South Ministerial Council in Armagh on Wednesday 26 June 2013.

The Executive were represented by me, in my capacity as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and by John O’Dowd MLA, Minister of Education.  The Irish Government were represented by Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.  This statement has been agreed with the Minister of Education, and I am making it on behalf of us both.

The Council received a presentation from Martin Cronin, the chairperson of InterTradeIreland and Thomas Hunter McGowan, its chief executive officer (CEO), on InterTradeIreland’s performance and business activities, including information on performance against its 2012 business plan targets, highlights from its trade and innovation programmes and business and economic research activities in 2012 and to date in 2013.  The Council noted that, during 2012, InterTradeIreland had delivered a 13:1 return on investment; assisted 92 first-time innovators; assisted 67 first-time exporters; delivered 6% efficiency savings; and delivered a total business value of £92·1 million.  The Council approved InterTradeIreland’s 2013 business plan and recommended that the 2013 budget provision for InterTradeIreland be £9,507,000.

Ministers noted InterTradeIreland’s cross-border study ‘Access to Finance for Growth in SMEs in Ireland and Northern Ireland’ and the emerging findings arising from the report.  Those findings included that the state of the wider business environment in Ireland and Northern Ireland is closely linked to the issue of finance for growth in SMEs; demand for credit has fallen substantially since 2008, although a majority, 61%, were successful in applying for new credit in the third quarter of 2012; the percentage of businesses that cite lack of finance as a constraint on growth continues to increase; and businesses with distressed property debt are three times more likely to request working capital finance than their counterparts.

 

The Council noted InterTradeIreland’s update paper on the FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes.  Ministers noted that the total drawdown from FP7 projects to participants from both jurisdictions is valued at €60·7 million, distributed among 69 projects.  It also noted that four new successful projects had recently been announced.  They welcomed the measures aimed at facilitating collaboration on FP7 and Horizon 2020 between researchers, companies and relevant organisations from Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Ministers noted a presentation by officials from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that reviewed the operation of the enterprise theme of the current INTERREG IVa programme.  They welcomed the practical benefits and legacy of the programme and noted the likely shape of the successor to INTERREG IV, which is being developed.  I commend the statement to the Assembly.

Mr McGlone (The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire chomh maith.  The Minister will be aware that the Committee has taken a lot of interest in and placed a lot of emphasis on research, innovation and development.  That is the case with FP7 but more so, potentially, with the Horizon 2020 project and the benefits that it could realise for innovation, research and development projects.  As most people know, those projects, tailored with the proper skills, are the way forward for the development of new industry on the entire island of Ireland.  Will the Minister give us some indication and maybe a wee bit of expansion as to what exactly are the measures that are "aimed at facilitating collaboration"?  How will they lead to more outreach work with the SMEs, which are so crucial to the development of our local economy?

Mrs Foster: I thank the Member for his question.  I assure him that the first meeting that I had with the new CEO of InterTradeIreland, Thomas Hunter McGowan, was about just that:  how we get more small and medium-sized enterprises across Northern Ireland involved in innovation and how we can facilitate them to do so, given the fact that they do not have the infrastructure of large firms to do any of that.

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With regard to what InterTradeIreland has been engaged in, it had a successful 'Collaborate to Innovate' conference on 16 May, and feedback from that has been very positive. My Assembly Private Secretary (APS), Alastair Ross MLA, attended for me as I was unable to attend.

There is more structure now as regards cooperation between the higher education institutions in the Republic of Ireland and those in Northern Ireland, particularly the institutes of technologies in the Republic, to identify and build collaborations between them with regard to Horizon 2020.

To go back to the use of digital technology, InterTradeIreland is developing a Horizon 2020 app for mobile devices, and I look forward to seeing the finished product in the autumn, hopefully in October.  That will try to increase awareness of Horizon 2020 and make it accessible for small firms so that it will give them all the information and have it readily available so that it can be accessed by small and medium-sized firms, rather than them having to go to look for the information.

We are taking very practical steps to try to work with small and medium-sized firms.  We will, of course, look at holding events around Northern Ireland again as we have done in the past.

Mr Newton: I thank the Minister for her statement, and I note that in it she referred to the work being done on the growth of SMEs.  She will be well aware of the fact that Northern Ireland's economy is, essentially, an SME economy.  Will the Minister expand a little bit on the work that InterTradeIreland is doing in the SME market, particularly in Northern Ireland?

Mrs Foster: As I indicated, when I spoke to the new CEO, Thomas Hunter McGowan, that was one of the focuses of our meeting, because I feel that InterTradeIreland can make a difference to small and medium-sized companies.  However, we do not want to duplicate what Invest Northern Ireland is doing, and duplication is always one of the things that we talk about with InterTradeIreland.  We need it to add value to what Invest Northern Ireland is engaged in.  It provides help to small and medium-sized companies through a number of its programmes and initiatives.

Acumen, which is a trade programme designed to simulate cross-border businesses for SMEs, reported a total of 76 new projects.  I do not have the target for how many it was to put in place, but the reported business value and jobs impact of that was 122 new jobs.  Although InterTradeIreland is not a job creation body — it is a trade organisation — we asked it some time ago to put in a matrix so that we could measure the number of jobs that it was creating as a consequence of helping businesses to trade in a more effective way.  The jobs impact of that single project was 122. 

Go-2-Tender, which is another very good programme — one of my favourite programmes from InterTradeIreland — tries to help small companies to tender in the opposite jurisdiction and to get work from the public sector.  Again, that was very successful and had a jobs impact of 63.  Therefore, each of the programmes is having an impact in respect of jobs, and they are also having a good and positive impact on the small and medium-sized business sector.

Mr Flanagan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Cuirim fáilte roimh ráiteas an Aire.  I thank the Minister for her statement.  The Minister referred to InterTradeIreland's cross-border study on access to finance for growth in SMEs and talked about some of the findings arising from the report.  Can she give us any more information on the report and whether there are any recommendations in it that might be taken forward in conjunction with the recommendation in the economic advisory group's recent report?

Mrs Foster: I thank the Member for his question.  We had only the emerging findings at our meeting in June, and we are hoping to have the final report with us in the very near future.  The pleasing aspect is the fact that the InterTradeIreland report could use the data collected by the economic advisory group in relation to Northern Ireland and the access to finance study in relation to all of the island. 

I thank InterTradeIreland and the economic advisory group for their effective coordination.  We look forward to receipt of the full report.  I should say, however, that the business monitor from InterTradeIreland tentatively signalled that, for quarter 2, things in the economy were getting a little better, and they stated that over 64% of businesses maintained or increased their sales over the past quarter.  That ties in with what we have been hearing from other indicators for Northern Ireland, including the Ulster Bank just yesterday.

So, although I do not want to overstate issues by talking perhaps about a turn in economic growth, I think that all the indicators seem to be pointing in the right direction for the first time.

Mrs Overend: I thank the Minister for her second statement.  I just want to probe a wee bit more about access to finance.  The cross-border study states:

"the state of the wider business environment in Ireland and Northern Ireland is closely linked to the issue of finance for growth for SMEs".

Does the Minister agree with that statement, and would she agree with me that many SMEs in Northern Ireland are still struggling to access finance?

Mrs Foster: I think that that is right.  I also think that the telling part of the emerging findings was that those small and medium-sized businesses that had been exposed to property debt during the recession are those that are finding the greatest difficulty with working capital.  I am sure that that is borne out by what Members are told by their constituents.  I regularly come across people who purchased property for investment reasons and now find that it has become a real drag on the growth of their small business.  They cannot get the working capital that they need from the banks because the security that they had has fallen away from them.

So, that continues to be an issue for us.  The Finance Minister and I had a range of meetings with the banks, which we concluded during the summer months.  I know that a ministerial advisory group has been set up in the economic pact to look at our national initiatives and at whether they are having an impact in Northern Ireland in the way that they are.  The Finance Minister is having a meeting tomorrow with the Secretary of State and the British Bankers' Association to try to get the regional data so that we can really see what is happening here in Northern Ireland.

So, I welcome InterTradeIreland's report and look forward to the final report.  However, it is, of course, part of the wider issue of what is happening nationally with finance.

Mr Lunn: I thank the Minister for her statement.  One of the success stories in Northern Ireland over the past few years has been the performance of the film industry.  Perhaps the biggest success story in that sector has been 'Game of Thrones', which, according to the Northern Ireland Screen report, has produced a return of 7:1, which is regarded as brilliant.  InterTradeIreland, according to this report, has delivered a more stellar return of 13:1, which, as I understand it, is absolutely unheard of.  I know that those are not the Minister's figures, so is she satisfied that they do not require a bit more investigation?

Mrs Foster: I am satisfied, because we probed that very issue of whether they were real and meaningful figures.  However, if you look at the budget that InterTradeIreland receives and then look at the return that has been delivered on that budget, you will see that it comes out at 13:1.  I think that that is a very good investment.  I have seen the investment through all its programmes and activities, and all that we can do is to encourage them to reach out and to try to get even more.

Mr Dunne: I thank the Minister for her statement.  I think that we all welcome InterTradeIreland's increase in public awareness initiatives.  It has been meeting elected representatives, MLAs and councillors, and that is to be welcomed.  Will the Minister advise us of the work of InterTradeIreland's Fusion programme and how Northern Ireland businesses have benefited from it?

Mrs Foster: Fusion is another of InterTradeIreland's programmes.  I have talked about Acumen and Go-2-Tender.  Fusion is a technology transfer programme that provides companies with new product or process-development needs.  The good thing about that programme is that it employs graduates from the other jurisdiction.Over 80% of those graduates are then offered jobs, which is a very good statistic.  In 2012, companies reported a business development value of £31·2 million and a jobs impact, excluding graduate jobs, which is an important point, of 101 new jobs.  So Fusion has worked very well.  It is at the higher end of technology transfer, but I am very pleased that some of our companies are benefiting from the programme.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: I thank the Minister for her statement.  In the report over the summer on the social enterprises and third sector, one issue was that companies and social enterprises here were not trading in the Twenty-six Counties.  What is being done to address that?  Equally, there are 470-plus social enterprises in the North.  Does she intend to increase investment, particularly in the social economy sector?

Mrs Foster: Of course, we were not aware of the value of the social economy sector to the Northern Ireland economy.  So my colleague from the Department for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, and I started a mapping process, and we now have a social economy map.  We know the value of the social economy to Northern Ireland, and I will happily pass that information on to InterTradeIreland.

A lot of operators in the social economy are focused on the community that they work in, and there is nothing wrong with that, but if they want to grow, the natural progression is to our nearest neighbour, and I will certainly take on board what the Member has said about InterTradeIreland's engagement with the social economy.  The social economy stretches from Bryson House, which is a hugely sophisticated organisation, right down to very small social economy companies in local communities that may not want to grow.  We will look at that, and we will work with the social economy sector.

Just yesterday, at a meeting of the economic subgroup of the Executive, the value of the social economy and how we could use it to try to deal with the economically inactive in Northern Ireland came up.  We certainly value the social economy and will work with it in the future.

Mr A Maginness: I thank the Minister for her very thorough report and answers.  I agree with the thrust of the report:  an awful lot of work is being done by InterTradeIreland.  There is, however, one area in which InterTradeIreland could involve itself, namely public procurement, to assist businesses, North and South, in accessing the various procurement capacities of both Governments, North and South.  Is there any role, Minister, that InterTradeIreland could be involved in to assist firms in that public procurement process?

Mrs Foster: I am very happy to tell the Member that InterTradeIreland is involved in that process through its Go-2-Tender programme, which is specifically designed to assist small and medium-sized companies in accessing public procurement in the other jurisdiction.  I thank CPD in our Administration and its equivalent in the Dublin Government for working with InterTradeIreland and trying to make what is, let us face it, the maze of public procurement a little easier to understand.

In 2012, an independent evaluation of previous phases of Go-2-Tender reported a net business development value of £4·5 million and a job impact of 63.  There have been eight workshops specifically on Go-2-Tender during this calendar year of 2013.  So Go-2-Tender, as I said, is one of my favourite InterTradeIreland programmes because it really helps small and medium-sized companies get into the maze of public procurement, whether that is in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

 

Mr Dallat: I also welcome the statement and treat it as a good-news story, which the Assembly badly needs.  I am delighted that 61% of businesses that applied for credit in recent times were successful, but, without wishing to be pessimistic, that means that 39% were not successful.  The cross-border study goes on to state that the percentage of businesses citing lack of finance as a constraint on growth continues to increase.  I am sure that the Minister has been focusing on that.  Will she expand on what is being done on both sides of the border to make the banks more accountable and useful to the people whom they are supposed to serve by making finance available?

11.15 am

Mrs Foster: I thank the Member for his observation and question.  Part of our difficulty with the banks is that they tell us that they want to lend and have money, and that there is no problem with the supply that they can give us.  They tell us that not enough people are applying for loans.  However, when I come here and meet colleagues, they tell me that people are applying for money but cannot get any.  So, there is a disparity between the two stories.  My colleagues the current Finance Minister and, indeed, the former Finance Minister have been engaged with the British Bankers' Association to try to get data at a regional level — a Northern Ireland level — so that we can see the reality of bank lending in Northern Ireland.  As I say, the Minister has a meeting with the British Bankers' Association in London tomorrow, and hopefully we will get some clarity on the issue.

Mr Allister: Time was spent at the meeting comparing the 2012 out-turn with the 2012 business plan targets.  Unfortunately, we cannot read the business plan for 2012 on InterTradeIreland's website because it is not there.  However, we know from the 2011-13 corporate plan that there was a target to increase the number of businesses involved in cross-border trade and innovation by 10,000 over that three-year period.  We read in this report that, in 2012, there was assistance for 92 first-time innovators and 67 first-time exporters.  So, how is the 10,000 target going if those are the figures for 2012?

Mrs Foster: I am sorry:  I cannot answer that.  I do not know why that plan is not on the InterTradeIreland website.  I will certainly investigate the issue for the Member and come back to him.  I will also get back to him in writing about the other target and will put a note in the Library.  I just do not have that information to hand.

Private Members' Business

Mutual Respect and Reconciliation

Mr Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate.  The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.  One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List.  The proposer will have 10 minutes in which to propose the amendment and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech.  All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

Mr G Kelly: I beg to move

That this Assembly notes with grave concern the violence and disorder over the summer months; deplores the activities of all those who engaged in acts of violence against local communities, elected representatives, and the PSNI; affirms the commitment of all elected representatives to promote a culture of tolerance and reconciliation and to act in a way which promotes mutual respect rather than division; and to work constructively to find long term and sustainable solutions to contentious political issues in the best interests of the communities we serve.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  This morning, there was a hoax bomb in my constituency of North Belfast.  I want to start by condemning that.  In a situation that is already very tense, there was no other intention in putting such a hoax bomb there than to increase tension in the area.  There was disruption to many residents.  I think that they are back in their homes now.  It should be condemned.

By any reading of the motion, its purpose is to attempt to make a positive move forward as we move into the Haass talks and to have a collective, all-party view of where we are going.  Of course, it now sits in the context of yesterday's debate.

Let me say what surprised me about the amendment, which we will vote against.  First of all, I think that anybody — I am maybe going to contradict this — could agree with the motion, but the DUP has decided to change what is a positive motion into a negative and divisive debate, à la yesterday.  What surprises me a wee bit about it is not that they have done that, because they are obviously in that form and mode, but what they have taken out, because that must be what they disagree with.  They have put it in straight after "PSNI".  So — if you read it — they are saying that they disagree with the Assembly reaffirming:

"the commitment of all elected representatives to promote a culture of tolerance and reconciliation and to act in a way which promotes mutual respect rather than division; and to work constructively to find long term and sustainable solutions to contentious political issues in the best interests of the communities we serve."

Gregory Campbell was up yesterday saying that he cannot understand republicans and nationalists.  What a revelation — what a revelation.  Everybody will be surprised at that.

Mr Allister: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  Could you clarify if what Mr Kelly said is correct?  Surely if the intent of the amendment is to exclude the words that he claims are to be excluded, the reading of the amendment would be to:

"Leave out all after ‘PSNI;’ and insert".

Whereas, if I read the amendment correctly, I see that it is an insertion only, not an exclusion.  So, perhaps Mr Kelly could be corrected.

Mr Speaker: I think that that may be correct; it is to "insert" rather than to leave out.  The motion and the amendment are before the House here today, and it is really up to the House to decide on both.  I think that we should leave it there.

Mr G Kelly: In fairness to the point of order, from rereading the amendment, I accept and presume that that is the intent.

Mr Clarke: Further to that point of order by my colleague from North Antrim, Mr Speaker.  Surely the proposer of the motion is actually misleading the House in terms of the definition and how he has laid out his case.  I think that that is possibly the point, although the Member who made the point of order did not actually use the word "misleading".

Mr G Kelly: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Order.  Certainly, the Member has clarified his position, and I have hopefully clarified the position.  Really, we should not turn this debate into being about whether the amendment or the motion is admissible.  I think that we should try to move on.  I will take Mr Kelly's point of order.

Mr G Kelly: I think that you have dealt with it, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Let us move on.

Mr G Kelly: OK.  The one thing that I will not change about what I said earlier is that the DUP has taken a very positive motion, which I think that everybody could agree with, and turned it into a negative.  In fact, it wanted a divisive argument instead of a positive move towards the Haass talks.

We have gone through a summer in which hundreds of police officers have been injured, and we have heard excuses around that from the unionist side of the Chamber.  We have had sectarianism at places of worship — Catholic churches and chapels — and anti-Catholic songs sung, and we have heard excuses around that.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Mitchel McLaughlin] in the Chair)

Over the weekend, 72 bands celebrated and commemorated Brian Robinson — a person who was involved in the killing of Paddy McKenna.  Not only have we had excuses around that, or perhaps more accurately, mostly silence and then excuses, but we have also had elected reps of the House marching behind that band — not just once but year on year — past the place where Brian Robinson killed Paddy McKenna and, indeed, where Paddy lived.

We had elected reps on flag protests, and, if we go back far enough, we had elected reps of the Chamber standing shoulder to shoulder with protesters against a Catholic girls' primary school.  When we had the recent threats to Holy Cross and other schools, believe me, I tried, as did many others, throughout the weekend to get some reaction and leadership from unionists, but it was not until the Monday that we got that.  Just let me say that there is an exception to that in those connected to the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) and, indeed, Lee Reynolds, who represents the area.   So, I suppose the question is this: where were the MLA voices, because there are plenty of voices about?

Mr Campbell: Will the Member give way?

Mr G Kelly: No.

Mr Clarke: Mutual respect.

Mr G Kelly: We do not want you to get up yet again and insult people. 

Where were the voices to settle parents?  Whatever people think about the threats and wherever they might have emanated from, I can tell you that parents — I and other elected representatives got calls — were very fearful, as were teachers, and there was a period during the weekend before the schools started on Monday morning when they could have been settled, more so by unionists than ourselves.

Yesterday, we had a debate on Castlederg, and there was a lot of talk — I understand it — about hurt to victims.  I will make a point today that I wanted to make yesterday: the difficulty is not that people are hurt by the actions of others, what people say and parades that take place; it is that there is no recognition by the far side of the House that people can be hurt on the republican side and that relatives of volunteers in the IRA, who lost their loved ones, are also hurt by what people say here and other words. 

When we talk about the hierarchy of victims and inequality, that is what we are talking about.  Indeed, Alban Maginness's solution was that the relatives of volunteers should hide in some hall and do their grieving and have their commemorations there.  Ross Hussey quite proudly said that he was an ex-RUC reservist and that he was glad at the deaths — glad at the deaths —, yet the debate was about people's sensitivity to victims.  It is this idea that there can only be one type of victim that most annoys others.

Mr Nesbitt: I thank the Member for giving way.  He referred Mr Hussey's remarks from yesterday.  For the official record, the context was that he was glad that, if anybody died that day, it was the people carrying the bomb, because the bomb was intended to kill others.  So, if people were going to die, he would rather it was not the intended targets but the people carrying the bomb, who were the perpetrators.

Mr G Kelly: It was read into the record yesterday, Mr Nesbitt.  You are an ex-victims' commissioner.  His comment was added to, and when he said it, there were cries of "hear, hear" from about the place. [Interruption.] So it is a "hear, hear" from you as well.  You are an ex-victims' commissioner, and you are nodding there.  Let us put that on the record as well.  Then, of course, it was added to by Jim Allister who was glad and thought that it was something that should be celebrated.  In the middle of all this, when you are high on your pedestals and are so argumentative about people trying to remember their loved ones, remember that other people have suffered as well.  That is the great difficulty with the type of debates that we are having.

Lord Morrow accused me of being ambivalent.  I have been accused of many things, but I do not think that ambivalence is one of them.  I was very straightforward.  I was a combatant in a conflict situation, and I believe that I was right.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Mr G Kelly: I did make a choice.  People need to realise that, if we are going into the Haass talks, open-mindedness needs to be part of it.  That means listening to other people and understanding that other people suffer as much —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member's time is up.

Mr G Kelly: — no matter where they come from in the community.

Mr Nesbitt: On a point of order, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.  A lot of us are finding it very hard to hear.  Yesterday and today, I have found it particularly hard to hear Mr Kelly's contributions.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: It is not a point of order, but we have informed the Assembly management, and it is checking the sound system.

I encourage Members to speak out and for them to give Members who are speaking some order so that we all have the opportunity to hear what is being said.

11.30 am

Mr Newton: You did call me there, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker?

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: I am sorry; I did not hear what you said.

Mr Newton: I beg to move the following amendment:  Insert after "PSNI;"

"condemns those who damaged community relations by engaging in commemorations glorifying the acts of terrorists;".

I assure you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, that I am going to speak out on this matter.

I am not surprised at all that Mr Kelly is not accepting the insertion into the motion.  The Sinn Féin motion as it stands is carefully crafted, but it is a two-faced motion that ignores the central issues around the problems of violence across our community.

The motion is constructed to appear to be forward-looking, but in reality it is an avoidance of the problems caused by Sinn Féin's backward-looking attitude and history in its content and approach.  It expertly avoids the solid and essential base on which equality and reconciliation is built.  It is typical Connolly House propaganda, Connolly House misinformation, Connolly House half-truths, Connolly House cant and Connolly House hypocrisy.  That is where it is coming from.  As always, the Sinn Féin party line is there no matter whom it offends.  It is typical Gerry Adams-speak.

The motion:

"notes with grave concern ... over the summer".

It:

"deplores the activities of ... those ... engaged in acts of violence against local communities, elected representatives, and the PSNI".

It seeks:

"to promote a culture of tolerance and reconciliation"

and to promote "mutual respect rather than division".

However, it falls short.

Mr Campbell: Will the Member give way?

Mr Newton: Let me just make this point.  The motion falls short.  It does not condemn those who damage community relations by engaging in commemorations that glorify acts of terrorism or the heinous history of terrorists who have caused such grievous injury across Northern Ireland, such as the Castlederg two.

Mr Campbell: I do not want to interrupt the flow of the Member's argument, but does he agree that we have heard from Sinn Féin an attempt to indicate that there has not been condemnation of illegal activities over the summer, when, in fact, our amendment to the motion would condemn all those acts of violence and would add the condemnation of the glorification of terror, such as that which we saw in Castlederg?  Therefore, the amendment does both, rather than what Mr Kelly implied it would do.

Mr Newton: The Member is quite right.  The composite motion would be as he has outlined — right across the board.  The Members' code of conduct —

Mr Lyttle: I thank the Member for giving way.  Will he clarify and confirm that the condemnation extends to a commemoration of violence by all groups, whether republican, loyalist or other?

Mr Newton: The Member really ought to read the amendment before he gets to his feet to try to make such a petty political point.

The Members' code of conduct indicates that we have to:

"Ensure public confidence and trust in the integrity of Members by establishing openness and accountability as the key elements of the Code".

Sinn Féin has an opportunity today to openly and transparently be accountable and to condemn the cowards who murdered the workmen in the Teebane crossroads massacre; the sectarian murderers who in cold blood shot down workers in the Kingsmills massacre; the cowards who planted the bomb in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day massacre; the vile thugs who planned and planted the bombs in the La Mon House massacre; the evil gunmen who so callously carried out the Darkley gospel hall massacre; and the vicious brutes who bombed and murdered in Claudy. 

Sinn Féin continues to eulogise those who, on a Saturday morning, carried out the Shankill Road bomb massacre.

Mr Hussey: Will the Member give way?

Mr Newton: I will give way in just a moment.  Sinn Féin displays double standards by attending services for the innocent victims of the Omagh bombing while giving high praise to the Provo terrorists who murdered other innocent victims.  What duplicity.  We also need to remember all those who were murdered and maimed by the Provisional IRA across the mainland.  The IRA has created a wasteland of atrocities that Sinn Féin refuses to condemn.  I give way to the Member.

Mr Hussey: Unfortunately, I was not here for the start of the debate, but I heard my name mentioned.  The Member is quite correct: Sinn Féin will not condemn those attacks.  In August 1973, two men set out from County Donegal with a car bomb.  In August 1998, two men set out to Omagh with a car bomb.  However, I have been criticised for saying that it was right that those who were in that car did not get their car bomb into Castlederg and died in the execution of that bomb attempt.  I do not apologise for those remarks; I stand by them.  I am sure that we would all rather see people alive than a fifty-first car bomb brought into Castlederg.

Mr Newton: I thank the Member for his intervention.  Those who were involved in the list of horrific crimes that I have read out are heroes to Sinn Féin and are treated in the same manner in which they treated their Castlederg two.  In the mindset of Sinn Féin, there is a need to continue their conflict by revelling and taking pleasure in celebrating terrorist atrocities through near-religious devout remembrance of those who murdered and maimed.  Such activities do not rest within the honeyed words of the motion.  Those who pay tribute to the terrorists cannot be seen as genuinely interested in or concerned about peace.  Their words are false and phoney, and there is no truth in them.  They are dishonest.  They are words without any substance.

The Member who proposed the motion referred to the Richard Haass talks.  The DUP is intent on entering into those talks in a positive manner.  We are committed to finding a way forward on all the contentious issues, whether they be parades, flags or the past.  Northern Ireland needs to move forward for the sake of our citizens, our children, the economy and the whole of our society.  However, Sinn Féin needs to recognise that it cannot continue its campaign of paying tribute to those who butchered innocent men, women and children.

We are seeking a shared future.  If that is to mean anything, it has to include shared space.  If we have situations in Northern Ireland where there are no-go areas, where Orangemen and Orangewomen are not welcome, and where cultural apartheid is the order of the day, we are going nowhere.  How can there be trust between communities when atrocities remain unsolved, when players in the Provisional IRA remain silent about their long list of atrocities and then there is the glorification of those atrocities?

 

Northern Ireland needs to move forward, but Sinn Féin needs to recognise that it cannot continue this campaign of creating saint-like heroes out of those who have murdered and maimed our citizens.

Mr Attwood: The SDLP will be supporting the motion and amendment.  Yesterday, I commented that there was a sense of detachment about what people were saying in here from what people were experiencing outside of here.  What I have heard this morning only corroborates that assessment of things.  Indeed, what we heard from New York overnight corroborates the fact that there are people in America at the moment, just as there are people in the Chamber at the moment, who are detached from the loss of hope that people are experiencing about the frustration of the ambition of the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent agreements and the values of agreement politics.  If people do not recognise how detached they are becoming from the broader human and community experience, the next three months will not fulfil the ambition that many of us hope for.

Mr Kelly's speech was like a postscript to yesterday's debate rather than actually addressing the content of the motion.  From my perspective and the SDLP perspective, the loss to a family, a movement and a community of those who value those individuals, of an IRA volunteer is no less in human, family and community terms than the loss of any other person during the years of terror and state violence.  But Mr Kelly repeatedly refuses to recognise that those who he represents do not recognise the hurt that was caused to democracy by the IRA campaign, when the sovereign will of the people of Ireland was repeatedly usurped by a small group of people.  When he talks about taking a war, as he calls it, to the British, what actually happened was that terror was inflicted upon civilian people here, in Britain and in other places.  Until and unless that is acknowledged by the republican movement, just as I acknowledge its sense of loss, things will not move forward.

The DUP commentary on yesterday was touched on by Robin Newton.  He, again, had a list of atrocities that the IRA was responsible for.  However, he was silent once again, as always, on state atrocity.  Today in London, MPs, including Alasdair McDonnell, are sponsoring an event for the Ballymurphy massacre families.  Until Mr Newton can stand on his feet in the Chamber and talk about that state atrocity, your words sound very hollow.  Until you get to that place, the ambition of the Haass process will be frustrated.

 

The motion touches on:

"long term and sustainable solutions to contentious political issues".

I agree.  However, unless we are to have sustainable solutions to contentious issues, we have to recognise, as I said yesterday, that politics is degrading before our very eyes, that the pattern in recent times of short-term fixes to long-term problems by Sinn Féin and the DUP will not work, and that the Haass process is about long-term and genuinely sustainable solutions.  If we are to have that outcome, I will outline in broad terms what that might look like. 

The solution to the issue of flags is not agreement on the flying or otherwise of any national flag; it is much broader than that.  It is a comprehensive agreement that touches on flags, emblems, symbols and memorabilia.  That is the ambition of the Haass process as we should see it, and that is what we should work for.  In that space, the issue of flags will be resolved.

Secondly, when it comes to dealing with the past, until we acknowledge that what victims and survivors want is a truth and accountability process that touches on all the atrocities that remain unresolved, Mr Newton — not the ones that were the responsibility solely of the terror organisations, but also the state — and until we have that mechanism in place, truth and accountability and victims and survivors will be frustrated.

Finally, when it comes to parades, let us recognise that we need a parades commission and that it is better that that is outwith —

11.45 am

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Mr Attwood: — the institutions of government than within.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Before I call the next Member, I remind Members that all remarks should be made through the Chair.  I know that, in any debate, there will be the need to cross-reference comments that Members who spoke previously made.  However, all remarks should be addressed through the Chair.

Mr Nesbitt: We will support the amendment.  When I first saw the motion, it seemed to me that, in trying to take a generic view of it, there was perhaps some fear from the proposers that there is some hint in the violence of some unravelling going on in our political process and that perhaps what was motivating some of those who were responsible for the violence of the summer was a political ambition to return to majority rule.  Let me say to Sinn Féin that the Ulster Unionist Party is not proposing a return to majority rule.  It is gone.  Move on.  We are moving on from that.  We want consensual government.  However, let me also make it clear that what happened last 3 December at Belfast City Hall was not consensual government.  Once Sinn Féin saw a majority with the Alliance and the SDLP, it went for it.  No unionist bought in.  We will not go forward with mutual respect and tolerance and everything else that you want if you are going to behave in that manner.  It has to be properly consensual if we are really to get anywhere.

Is the violence wrong?  Yes, and I have been saying so for many, many months.  The violence is wrong.  It is wrong legally, it is wrong morally, and, in so far as it comes from people who consider themselves to be pro-union, it is also wrong politically and even tactically, because it takes a focus off where it is supposed to be.  I am thinking of Castlederg, where unionism was getting up a good head of steam to complain about what was being proposed.  Only one thing took a focus off that, and that was Ruth Patterson's very ill-judged remarks on social media.  That is regrettable.  Let us ask the unionist community to keep focused on what is important.  Condemning violence is important.  No matter where it comes from or who is responsible for it, it is wrong.  That is a different analysis from that of Sinn Féin, which argued for many years that violence was justified because of the conditions.  However, I will not rehearse what I said yesterday on that particular issue. 

The motion asks us to note:

"with grave concern the violence and disorder over the summer months".

I do that, but I also note with grave concern that, underpinning that, is a perception by some that where we are going politically is a one-way street.  There is a perception that republicans have lost the battle for a united Ireland.  If you do not agree with me, look at the census, where you will see that only one in four people in this country said that they wanted to be called Irish.  Republicans have lost the battle for a united Ireland and have conceded that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will stay so for as long as the majority vote that way.  There is every indication that we will all be long gone before there will be any likelihood of people voting for change.  With all that done, republicans now want to say, "OK, Northern Ireland may be part of the United Kingdom, but we wish to remove every single vestige that would say that Northern Ireland is British."  That is a perception that is a challenge for the republican movement.

You ask for "tolerance and for reconciliation" in your motion.  In principle, of course we stand for tolerance and reconciliation, but what do you want us to be tolerant of?  Is it what happened in Castlederg?  If it is, I cannot satisfy you.  I can have a conversation with you.  Your national chairperson, when he launched your so-called reconciliation drive, talked about having difficult conversations.  We will have to have difficult conversations, and it will be difficult for you if you cannot understand that what happened in Castlederg is something that I cannot be tolerant of.

You ask for mutual respect, and, yes, I have mutual respect for your political aspiration for a united Ireland.

Fill your boots, peacefully and democratically, to try to persuade me that my future is in a united Ireland.  However, to your saying that there is equivalence — that a man who chose to join an illegal organisation set up specifically to undermine and destroy the state with bombs and bullets is the same as somebody who joined the security forces to defend the state — I say no and, to coin a phrase, never.  However, let us have those difficult conversations —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Mr Nesbitt: — whether it is with Haass, whether it is here or whether it is privately.  Let us have those difficult conversations because we owe it to the next generations.

Mr Lyttle: The Alliance Party will support the motion and the amendment as, regrettably, violence and community relations remain issues that we have to work wholeheartedly to address, but I will challenge the commitment of the proposer of each in my response.  In May this year, Members of the Assembly took part in talks in advance of a potentially very difficult summer that concluded with very clear commitments on behalf of their parties to support the rule of law and the PSNI obligation to uphold the rule of law.  They also committed to using stabilising rather than inflammatory language at all times.  That included DUP Ministers and senior Sinn Féin representatives as well as other party representatives.

So what actually happened?  We saw the best and the worst of Northern Ireland all in one.  On one hand, we had the success of the World Police and Fire Games, allowing us to showcase all that is good about our small part of the world.  Some 6,700 athletes from 67 countries came to compete in what were branded the friendliest games ever.  On the other hand, we had some elected representatives displaying a total lack of leadership when we needed it most, flouting the rule of law and making comments suggesting the inevitability of violence as the consequence of certain decisions.  What message does that send out to people who have violence in mind as an appropriate response to certain decisions?  It is not a very good one, and it does not show strong leadership.

Some elected representatives also demonstrated a lack of respect for victims in commemorative events, while other elected representatives selectively condemned such insensitive commemoration and, it seems, continue to turn a blind eye when it happens in other areas.  That tit-for-tat "whataboutery" has to stop.  It is damaging the credibility of elected representatives, whether they recognise that or not, and the credibility of the Assembly.  I agree with Alex Attwood that it makes the Assembly appear even more detached and disengaged from the reality on the ground.

The focus of political parties in Northern Ireland has to be to condemn all violence and damage to community relations, without selection or equivocation, and, most importantly, to work together for the common good of everyone in the community who is finding times very difficult across the board.  The motion sets out some of the key aspects of the way forward — tolerance, mutual respect, reconciliation and a long-term sustainable solution to improve community relations — but why, in 2013, are we still grappling with those issues?  The shared future strategy set out the key issues and an action plan to deal with them in 2005.  Approximately 180 responses to the cohesion, sharing and integration strategy consultation told OFMDFM in 2010 that it needed to integrate education, share space and create frameworks for dealing with flags, parades and the past.  Alliance worked to have those proposals put into action but withdrew from the talks that followed because the DUP and Sinn Féin refused to do the very thing that the motion calls for: to agree long-term solutions to the fundamental issues that we are dealing with.

The consequences of the failure of OFMDFM to face up to the issues have been stark and have been well rehearsed over the past two days in the Assembly.  They have been felt by every member of the community, businesses and families alike.  In response to that inadequate approach, Alliance proposed a more open and transparent talks process that, in addition to the work of political parties, would create an opportunity for the wider community to make its voice heard on the key issues under the stewardship of an independent chairperson.  I welcome the fact that OFMDFM has invited Richard Haass to initiate this process.  I encourage the silent majority in our society to respond to the call for submissions and make their views known.  However, for the process to deliver long-term sustainable solutions, political parties must be willing to think outside their perceived communal identity, or we will rerun these contested issues, over and over, with increasingly serious human and financial consequences.

Alliance has a vision for this community of children being educated together, mixed neighbourhoods, support for the rule of law and the balanced and dignified expression of identity.  I believe that that is the hope and aspiration of the vast majority of people in this community, and I believe that it is in our gift to achieve it.  It will, however, require political parties to work together and to show the courage to lead change —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Mr Lyttle: — beyond their own interest and for the common good.

Mr Humphrey: I support the amendment.

Over the past number of years, we have heard much of the concept of shared space and a shared future.  As a unionist who opposed the Belfast Agreement, I have to say that I am quite prepared to buy into the concept of a shared future and shared space, but only if that shared future and shared space includes my community and the culture of that community, including that of the Orange Institution.  The motion calls for the promotion of equality and reconciliation.  Quite frankly, that is rich coming from the party from which the motion emanates.  Sinn Féin's actions in removing the nation's flag from City Hall in December, supported, regrettably, by the SDLP and Alliance, created a huge fissure in community relations not just in the city but throughout Northern Ireland.  What was the response to that by Sinn Féin, the party that is so interested in community relations and building a shared future?  That night, Sinn Féin members had a party in their room in City Hall to celebrate this victory for the republican movement.  No consensus at all.  I see that they smile on their Benches.  One has to conclude that they must have known the outcome of that vote in City Hall.

The Tour of the North sets the tone for the parading season in Northern Ireland.  Look what happened that night.  Mr Kelly impaled himself on a Land Rover at Carrick Hill, protesting that a young man who had been inciting hatred should be released.  That night, Sinn Féin TV put it out that Catholic homes in Carrick Hill had been attacked.  When my colleagues and I visited the police only days later we were told that that did not happen.  That was propaganda and lies from Sinn Féin TV.

Decisions by Sinn Féin and, regrettably, the SDLP to name play parks after terrorists and to campaign for Marian Price and Gerry McGeough to be removed from jail are not understood by the unionist community.  They simply do not understand them and see them as gross acts of provocation.  Opposition to all Orange parades, including Orange church parades, is also not understood by the wider unionist community.  Campaigning through residents' groups — indeed, Sinn Féin has been involved in setting up new residents' groups in north Belfast — completely flies in the face of the motion.  Lobbying by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and, indeed, the Irish Government against Orange parades is simply seen as gross intolerance and anti-Orange by the community that I represent.

The Parades Commission's decision this year about Ardoyne has to be examined.  The commission, which Mr Attwood wants to keep in place, rewarded violence.  On 12 July last year, thousands of people came onto the streets, attacked the police, attacked Twaddell Avenue, set fire to a car and pushed it into police ranks and then used automatic gunfire from Brompton Park to try to murder police officers.  Of course, the most recent commemoration with Sinn Féin involvement was in Omagh.  That is another example of how it sees community relations in 2013.  The commemoration and celebration of murder and violence and the oration by one of the leading members of Sinn Féin make a laughing stock of and completely undermines the motion.  As a unionist and an Orangeman, I believe that the Parades Commission must now look at itself and its determination.  The commission is not part of the solution but is increasingly part of the problem.  The interference by the Irish Government in internal affairs by lobbying the Parades Commission must be examined and exposed by unionists.

Sinn Féin's street politics are because it has failed to deliver politically.  Sinn Féin knows that a united Ireland is not going to happen.  Adams promised a united, free, independent Ireland by 2016; it will not be realised, so the whole shift of emphasis has moved to the cultural war.  Let me tell you this: if that is the road that you want to go down, it is a road that you will perish upon.  You cannot win the cultural war any more than you won the military war. 

Northern Ireland needs to move forward.  Northern Ireland needs peace, stability and real reconciliation —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Could the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Mr Humphrey: — and it cannot be delivered by the street politics of the absolute zero-sum cultural annihilation that Sinn Féin is involved in.

12.00 noon

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  I speak in support of the motion and in opposition to the amendment.  I listened carefully to the accusation from the DUP that, somehow, we stand to be blamed for giving the motion careful consideration.  Then, we all stand accused of that because dealing with such a contentious issue requires that determination, consideration and focus, and I suggest that Members on the opposite Bench do likewise.

As the motion says, it is important that we act in a way which promotes mutual respect and that we work constructively to find a long-term solution to contentious political issues.  It is important, too, that we reflect on the social and economic cost of the last number of months.  Last week, we heard from the PSNI that a total of £28 million has been spent since December.  Therefore, it is critical that, as the motion calls for, we send out a message to US envoy Richard Haass as he prepares to come here to chair all-party talks.  We must create the best possible environment for those talks to take place.  As the motion states, all the violence and disorder must be condemned by everyone, including the DUP.  Political unionism needs to realise that nothing can be gained by continually feeding the insatiable appetite of those who see their life through a red, white and blue prism.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Will the Member give way?

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: No, I will not.  You had your say.

The reality is that the vast majority of unionists want to see the process succeed.  They are embarrassed by the antics of the thugs who attacked the police in recent weeks and months while wrapped in a Union flag.  So, let us not be equivocal about the condemnation of violence.  Of course, the Orange Order has refused to talk to some, yet their members talk to us in here all the time. 

In my constituency, we have very much the experience of 'A Tale of Two Cities'.  Why is that?  As someone who was directly involved in processes of dialogue —

Mr Givan: Will the Member give way?

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: No, I will not.

— around these issues, I know that this came about as a result of a recognition by many and by all the stakeholders in the city, including the loyal orders and political unionism, of the importance of resolving the contention around parades.  I would like to acknowledge the role that the Speaker of the House played in that many years ago alongside the Apprentice Boys.  The result of that has been a trouble-free city over many years.  So, in Derry, we have an example of negotiation and leadership from all sections of the community, including political unionism.  Therefore, it can be and has been proven that it can work in Derry, so there is absolutely no reason why it should not work in north or east Belfast.  The people of the North and across this island deserve that we address these issues.  However, the majority of people want us to debate in the Chamber the economy, jobs, health, investment, infrastructure and education.  Therein lies the answer.  Belfast can learn from Derry. 

Failure to learn and engage resulted in the mess that we saw over the summer months.  The big question for unionism is this: who leads unionism?  I am entirely comfortable with unionists seeking to express their British identity, provided that it is done in a sensible and non-threatening way.  I expect unionism to acknowledge and recognise my Irishness in the same manner.  I do not think that that is too much to expect.

Mr Clarke: I support the amendment in my colleagues' names.  Having read the motion and listened to the Member who spoke previously, I am puzzled at how Sinn Féin even got the motion constructed.  The tone of sectarianism of the previous Member to speak knows no bounds.  She talked about the red, white and blue and about looking through a prism.  Look at the violence that has been on our streets for many years.  They have looked at people with green-tinted glasses and those who have been the leaders of violence for many years and said, "It has worked for them.  Maybe it will work for us".  Her remarks have added to the problems as opposed to helping.

The motion affirms:

"the commitment of all elected representatives to promote a culture of tolerance and reconciliation".

It goes on to talk about "mutual respect".  There was an attack on the Orange culture.  I am glad to read into the record that I am proud to be a member of the Orange, and I am proud of the tradition that it has led.  I cannot see how anyone can take offence at a parade.

The Member who spoke previously drew a parallel with Londonderry.  She talked about health, the economy and jobs.  That is the only aspect of what she said that I agree with.  However, listen to what the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce said after the decision that her party made along with the SDLP and Alliance.  The effect on the economy and jobs of the decision that they made in Belfast City Council brought Belfast to its knees at the busiest trading time of the year: the lead-up to Christmas.  Those were hollow words again from the Member about what she wants to do for the economy, jobs and the other points that she made.  If someone just turned this debate on and listened to her, they would think, "She has nailed it; she is right", but we have to remember what actions her party colleagues took.

Mr McCartney: Maybe she is right.

Mr Clarke: No, I do not think that she is right.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member must be allowed to continue.

Mr Humphrey: I am grateful to the Member for giving way.  The Member who spoke previously, who represents the city of Londonderry in this place, made reference to the fact that it is 'A Tale of Two Cities'.  I have heard that from a number of people this year.  However, does he agree that absolutely no recognition is given to the fact that, over the last 30 to 40 years, the Protestant and unionist community has been systematically driven out of the city side of Londonderry and that is why there is 'A Tale of Two Cities'?

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

Mr Clarke: Thank you.  I agree entirely with my colleague on that.

I want to look at something else that the Member who spoke previously said.  I did not write down exactly how she framed it, but the point was that she would accept our culture, provided that we expressed it in such a way as it pleased her.  That is basically what she said.  It is a case of "You can have your culture and celebrate your culture, provided that you do it in the way that we want you do it".

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: Will the Member give way?

Mr Clarke: I will indeed.

Ms Maeve McLaughlin: For the record, what I said was that I am entirely comfortable with unionists seeking to assert their British identity, provided that it is done in a non-threatening and sensible way.

Mr Clarke: I am happy to give way again to the Member, but how do you define "non-threatening"?  Members walk behind a band from one point to their place of worship.  What is threatening about that?  Music will be played, and, as it is normally on a Sunday, that music will be hymns.  If you want to tell me how that is threatening to anyone from your community, I am happy to give way.  I think that that silence answers it.  We have hollow words from Sinn Féin again today.  It says that it accepts that culture if it is expressed in a non-threatening way, and I have given the Member an opportunity to suggest how it is threatening for someone to express their culture and go to a place of worship.

I listened to a party colleague yesterday in a private meeting at which he talked about the parade in Dunloy, where members can only walk a distance the length of this Chamber and are then blocked from going to their place of worship on a Sunday.  Can anyone in the Chamber explain — I am happy to give way — how it is threatening to anyone for a member of the Orange Order to walk to his place of worship and express himself in that religious ceremony?

Mr Lyttle: Will the Member give way?

Mr Clarke: I will.

Mr Lyttle: I take what the Member is saying.  Does he accept that the conduct of everyone participating in such events is not always of the standard that those organisations expect?

Mr Clarke: Yes, I have absolutely no problem with that if we are talking about the wider context.  However, I have a problem accepting that with respect to church parades, where people want to go to church and take part in a religious service.  Unfortunately, I have to say — I am happy to read it into the record — that there are some people who would tag along with parades who can cause a problem.  However, that problem has arisen through the interference of Sinn Féin in trying to block legitimate parades.  We cannot talk about mutual respect and tolerance if we cannot tolerate one of the largest organisations in this part of Ireland — if they want to call it Ireland.  In this part of Ireland, which is Northern Ireland, we cannot prevent people expressing their culture. 

We cannot say in one part of the motion that we want to work for mutual respect and yet not tolerate it unless it suits Sinn Féin.  People should be allowed to go about their business and express their culture, and that goes for both sides of the community.

Mr Newton: Will the Member give way?

Mr Clarke: I will indeed.

Mr Newton: Will the Member agree that, following the same point, there was indeed a strategy —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: I am sorry.  The Member's time is now exhausted.

Mr Newton: — developed by Sinn Féin to prevent Orange parades across Northern Ireland?

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member please resume his seat?

Mr A Maginness: The Assembly has had many successes, but, thus far, it has failed to address the central issue in our politics, and that is the disease of sectarianism, which has polluted and poisoned our politics for many generations, not just since partition but prior to it.  In the middle of the 19th century, there were many periods of sectarian violence and unrest, particularly in the city of Belfast.  If anyone reads Andy  Boyd's book 'Holy War in Belfast', they can see there the corrosive and poisonous nature of sectarianism.  Whether it be violent or non-violent, sectarianism eats into the very bones, health and welfare of all our citizens.  We are not addressing sectarianism as an Assembly.  This debate is symptomatic of that.  Coat-trailing by republicans in Castlederg is as unacceptable as coat-trailing by the Orange and Black institutions on the Crumlin Road or Donegall Street in Belfast.

On 31 August this year, I witnessed a most offensive, insulting, insensitive and disrespectful display by the Black Institution and its bands, who were returning up Donegall Street outside St Patrick's Church while Mass was being celebrated.  They knew that Mass was being celebrated, and, despite that, they played loud music and behaved, I believe, in a most offensive and insulting fashion.  Anybody passing a church where a service is ongoing should respect those worshippers and that service.  That was not done, and that is symptomatic of the indifference and insensitivity of the Orange Order and the loyal orders here in Northern Ireland, in Belfast in particular.  Until they realise the offence that they give to ordinary people, there will be no solution.

12.15 pm

It is up to us, as leaders, to try to highlight those problems and to try to educate those who continue to carry out such sectarian behaviour.  Sectarianism is not confined to the Orange Order, nor is it confined to unionism.  Sectarianism eats into the body politic and into all our communities.  It is up to us to address that.  Disputes over flags, parading and other issues are symptomatic of the sectarian differences that exist in our community.  We have to tackle those, and we are not tackling them.  We have the means to tackle them: we have established a power-sharing Executive, and we have established this institution — the Assembly — in which all people can participate and where all are represented in a proportionate fashion.  It is up to us, now, to grasp that nettle.  We have an opportunity in the Haass talks to do that, but we cannot deposit everything into Haass and hope that there will be some sort of solution to these issues.

I must say, leading into the Haass process, that the ill will and the lack of understanding expressed across the Chamber in the past two days does not augur well for the success of Haass.  Dr Haass can come here and help us, but it is up to us, finally, to find our own solutions and to help ourselves.  I do not think that we are doing that very well at the moment.  I appeal to all Members to renew their efforts to create goodwill and to achieve an end to the sectarian politics that have continued to blight us.

Mr Dallat: Will the Member give way?

Mr A Maginness: Yes, indeed.

Mr Dallat: Does the Member agree that the First Minister and deputy First Minister have a serious role to play in overcoming the problems that he has just outlined?

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member will be glad to hear that he has an extra minute.

Mr A Maginness: Thank you very much.  I agree with what Mr Dallat has just said.  It is very important that those who hold high office in the Assembly exercise leadership not only of their own party and what they perceive to be their own community but for everyone.  That is the essence of real leadership.  I believe that this community as a whole will respond if that leadership is, in fact, shown.  Unfortunately, however, that leadership has been very much lacking to date.  I hope that the First Minister and deputy First Minister can come to an agreement and an accommodation.  We in the SDLP will be very supportive of that, but we will continue —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member's time is up.

Mr A Maginness: — properly so — to criticise where it is necessary to criticise.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member will resume his seat, please.  I call Mr Tom Elliott.

Mr A Maginness: I believe that we will continue to show leadership as a political party.  Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Well, thank you.

Mr Elliott: When I read the motion and particularly some aspects of it, I ask this:  who in the Chamber could not deplore those engaged in acts of violence against local communities, local representatives and the PSNI?  I do not think that anyone here could support violence against those people.  However, I also ask whether those who tabled the motion deplore the violence against the RUC, the army and prison officers in this society?  Therein lies a challenge.  I hope that those people will make it clear at the end of the debate that they are willing to oppose the violence that went on for years against those groups of people and continues against some of them.

I would also like to accept some of Mr Attwood's arguments, indeed all or most of them.  He said that we should look at all Troubles-related killings equally; that is right.  However, when the starting point is that 90% of the killings and murders in the Province were caused by the terrorist movements here and 60% by republican terrorists, then, yes, let us look at them with equal value.  Let us ensure —

Mr Humphrey: Will the Member give way?

Mr Elliott: I will give way in a moment.  Let us ensure that 90% of the Coroners' Court inquests are to do with people who were murdered by terrorists.  Let us ensure that 90% of HET hearings, or whatever else it may be, are to do with people who were murdered by terrorists.

I will give way to Mr Humphrey.

Mr Humphrey: I thank the Member for giving way.  I, too, agree with Mr Attwood's assertion about the investigations of murders, wherever they came from.  The difficulty for my community and for the people whom we on these Benches represent is about your party's bona fides on this issue.  When you campaign for some of the people who were perpetrators of some of those murders to be released from prison, we have great difficulty with that.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.  I remind Members to speak through the Chair at all times.

Mr Elliott: OK, thank you very much, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.  I thank Mr Humphrey for that, but I will move on to the aspect of equality.

The fact is that we must recall where our starting point is.  Whether you bought into any of the agreements — the Belfast Agreement, the St Andrews Agreement or the Hillsborough agreement — the starting point for all those is that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom.  That is a fact that some people in this community and in this Chamber have trouble accepting.

 

I am willing to accept that people on the opposite Benches have different traditions from me — some different cultures and traditions.  I am willing to accept that and their right to have them, but they do not appear to be willing to accept where our starting point is; that we are part of the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom flag is the Union flag.  Until we have that honesty and realisation from those on the opposite Benches, how are we going to progress?  How are we going to accept each other's culture?  I am telling you from here that I accept that those people have different cultures and traditions and that I am willing to accept their right to go out and practice them — not in my face, perhaps — but they have a right to do so.  Sometimes it is in my face, but that is life.

When I witness that people in this Chamber will not even accept that the National Crime Agency should be part of Northern Ireland — something that should not have any political connotations at all, something that is for the best for everybody in this society — where is the equality and reconciliation in that?

Where is the equality and reconciliation when some people in this Chamber, giving a lead to those people who are their supporters, do not accept the armed services covenant in Northern Ireland?  It represents people who have fought not only for my community but for us all; people who have given up their lives and their service to help this community in totality.

Why will those people not accept the rights of people in the military?  Why will they not accept that the National Crime Agency should be extended to Northern Ireland?  Is it just because they are so blinkered in their opposition to Britishness and unionist culture?  Is it, I ask?  If not, then I am willing to listen to the argument that says it is not, but until they provide me with that evidence I do not see where their argument is coming from.

There is hypocrisy from the party that proposed the motion.  Given that there are some among them sitting in this Chamber who created many victims in this society, it is rank hypocrisy.

Mr McCallister: Let us think of the different message that would have come from the Chamber had this been a Government motion that had been laid by one of either of our First Ministers and been responded to by one of either of the First Ministers.  Let us think of the powerful message that that would have sent out to our communities.  Let us think of this Chamber, this Government and this Assembly speaking as one collective voice, sending out a message that there is leadership, that the Government are going to do something here and that they are going to address some of the issues that we have struggled with all year, and how that would have set a better context for the start of the Haass talks.

When we look at the motion and at the amendment, we think, "That is all reasonable."  However, the debate then descended into all the "whataboutery", with one side saying "Ballymurphy" and somebody else saying "La Mon", and we went through all the atrocities that the community has suffered.

I thought that it was interesting that the two Members who opened the debate both served as junior Ministers in the previous Government.  Both served alongside each other.  One proposed the motion and one proposed the amendment, but they came from different spectrums in the tone that was set for the debate.

This year has been a disaster for Northern Ireland.  The summer saw violence and political dispute.  We had Ministers and MLAs questioning the rule of law, criticising one side but not the other and condemning this but not that.  You lose credibility when you do that, because you are not condemning violence across the board.  Violence is violence, and it is wrong.

Mr Newton: I thank the Member for giving way.  I listened intently to what he said for nearly two and a half minutes.  Will he confirm whether he is going to support the motion or the amendment, or whether, as he did yesterday, he is going to opt out of making a decision?

Mr McCallister: Earlier, Mr Newton told Mr Lyttle to read, but he should listen more intently.  At the outset, I said that the motion and the amendment were perfectly reasonable.  The difficulty is the tone and nature of the debate.  We have completely entered into the "whataboutery".  As we head into the Haass talks, that background does not send any great signal that anything is going to change.

We have skyrocketing policing costs for dealing with this.  What are the solutions?  What is anybody finding?  We are going to have the Haass talks.  The parties of government are holding the Haass talks, but you keep distancing yourselves from your partners in government.  You keep acting as though you are not responsible and are not part of the process.  You are all in the Government together.  Why are you not thrashing this out around the Executive table?  Why are the First Minister, the deputy First Minister or the junior Ministers not responding to the debate?  Why have they not tabled this motion, given the message that that would have sent out?  Instead, we have everyone just condemning the bits that suit them. 

Mr Newton condemned the Castlederg parade, and rightly so, and Mr Kelly condemned the Brian Robinson parade last week, and rightly so.  That condemning of one or the other is all that we have managed to achieve in, literally, two days of debate.  It is a zero-sum game of politics, and it is not helpful to the situation that we face in Northern Ireland.

I agree with the other Members who said that what the people really want us to talk about are jobs, the economy, the state of our hospitals and our schools and all the investment that we should be putting into those areas.  They also want us talk about all the things that our police force should be investigating and doing, whether that is urban crime, rural crime, traffic offences or whatever it happens to be.  Instead, we are spending £28 million on literally holding and policing the divide in our society.  Real politics would be our debating those other issues.

I want to turn to some of the points that came out during the debate.  On the radio this morning, we had a Government Minister, in the form of Mrs Foster, who could not bring herself to condemn the parade last weekend.  The flags debate was thrown into this debate again today, with the DUP and the UUP saying that the decision was wrong, even though UUP policy at the time was designated days.  That was thrown in and has now changed.  There was the leafleting carried out last autumn and during the early winter, but with no ability to say that maybe you were slightly responsible —

12.30 pm

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Mr McCallister: — or that it maybe ratcheted up tensions.  That was wrong.

Mr Humphrey: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCallister: You will need to be desperately quick because I am out of time.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Your time has gone.

Mr Humphrey: It is just —

 

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The time has gone.

Mr Allister: Ms McLaughlin of Sinn Féin bemoaned the fact that we were not debating jobs, the economy and matters of more pertinence to the community, but whose motion is this?  Why is it on the Order Paper?  The motion is on the Order Paper because Sinn Féin chose it as its debate for this week.  Sinn Féin could have told the Business Committee that it wanted to debate the economy.  No, it wanted to debate the very issue that Ms McLaughlin then bemoans that we are debating at all.  It is little wonder that Mr Newton talked about cant and hypocrisy.  Indeed, there is much of that order in the wording of the motion.  The message reads very well if you could just forget who the messenger is. 

On the subject of cant and hypocrisy, I agreed with virtually everything that Mr Newton said.  He berated Mr Kelly for his many, many failings and for his past and present stance.  However, as Mr McCallister pointed out, Mr Kelly is the very man whom Mr Newton sat as partner with when junior Minister, and Sinn Féin is the very party that the DUP sustains in the Government day and daily.  Gerry Kelly has not changed.  He is the same Gerry Kelly who bombed the Old Bailey and shot a prison officer in the head, and he was that same person when Mr Newton was his partner.  He has not changed one iota in that regard.  Therefore, it is no surprise to me that although Gerry Kelly tries to excuse the fact that he will not support the amendment by initially suggesting that it is because it will exclude other necessary words, when it is exposed that no other words are being excluded, he still opposes the amendment.  Why?  Sinn Féin wants a motion that condemns violence, but not the violence of the IRA.  It wants a motion that condemns disorder and street rioting, but it does not want to touch at all by way of adverse comment anything that the IRA of Sinn Féin implemented and brought to the Province.  Indeed, far from wanting to condemn it, Sinn Féin wants to glorify it.  That is why it recoils from the idea that, hand in glove with condemning violence, we should equally condemn the glorification of violence.  It is indisputable that, if you want to be credible and taken seriously in condemning violence, you have to condemn violence — period.  You have to condemn the violence that includes the violence of terrorism.  You have also to desist from glorifying — all of that — that same violence.  Of course, it is because Sinn Féin is the willing prisoner of the IRA that it is unwilling to condemn the violence of the IRA.  Rather, it rather wishes to glorify it in all its bloodiness and hideous components.  We saw that in Castlederg, and we saw it in many other places. 

So I identify with the cant and hypocrisy that lies within the motion and in the refusal to accept the amendment, but I am not blind to other cant and hypocrisy as well.

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has arranged to meet immediately after the lunchtime suspension.  I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm.  The first item of business when we return will be Question Time.

The debate stood suspended.

The sitting was suspended at 12.35 pm.


On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) —

2.00 pm

Oral Answers to Questions

Agriculture and Rural Development

Mr Speaker: It is time for questions to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.  We will begin, as we did yesterday, with topical questions.  Those will last for up to 15 minutes, and we will then move on to deal with questions that appear on the questions for oral answer list.

Horizon 2020

Ms Boyle: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  What is the Minister's Department doing to try to increase drawdown of EU funds, particularly from the Horizon 2020 programme?  (AQT 21/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill (The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Horizon 2020 will be a significant funding stream for R&D, with an estimated budget in excess of £70 billion.  I am very keen that the agrifood sector maximises the drawdown and achieves the full benefit of that.  That is in line with the aspirations that have been set out in the Going for Growth strategy.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has provided three years of funding for a contact point post, which will be based at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).  The purpose of that post is to provide the agrifood sector with relevant information to allow it to maximise the drawdown that the North receives from the new Horizon 2020 research budget.  That new appointee will take up their post at the end of this month.

In addition, my officials will work closely with officials in other Departments, as part of the Executive's cross-departmental subgroup of the Barroso task force working group.  The IT subgroup has produced a communications strategy, which clearly sets out the structures in place to help sectors obtain the relevant information to ensure that we maximise the opportunities available under Horizon 2020.  That will be of benefit to the agrifood sector.

Ms Boyle: Go raibh maith agat.  In maximising the drawdown, what targets is the Department setting?

Mrs O'Neill: My target is to increase our drawdown of funding by at least 20%.  We are about to put in place our AFBI contact point, which will play a significant role in enabling us to do that.  Last year, AFBI drew down about £1·3 million in R&D funding, and we are working very closely with it to make sure that we increase that.

Just last week — last Wednesday and Thursday — I was in Brussels, and Martina Anderson MEP facilitated a number of meetings with the Commission, the Parliament and the Council.  We met a range of people to promote the work that AFBI is involved in, particularly around research and development, and to make sure that AFBI is known in Brussels so that, whenever it comes to drawing down the Horizon 2020 funding, we are at the table, people know who we are and people know what we have to offer.  AFBI has done significant work on research and development, particularly by working in partnership with other research agencies.

We also had a key meeting last week with Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who will be responsible for rolling out Horizon 2020.  Again, that was very fruitful.  She gave us very useful information on looking towards the new programme and how we bid into it.  That will be a major piece of work.  Obviously, we have Executive targets and individual DARD targets to make sure that we draw down as much money as we possibly can for research and development funding.

Rural Development Programme

Mr Anderson: With reference to the performance of the local action groups (LAGs) in the distribution of funding from the rural development programme, can you detail whether you feel that the delivery model has been a success and outline what performance indicators have been used to assess the LAGs?  (AQT 22/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: There are obviously lessons to be learned.  We inherited this programme and the mechanism by which things were rolled out.  We are now out to consultation, so we are going to gather up all the issues on the new rural development programme.  We will be able to gather up all the issues that there are in looking to the new programme and at how we can do things better.  There will always be ways to do things better.  There are simple things that could be done better.  For example, no matter if you want £1,000 or £100,000 of funding from the rural development programme, the application process is the same.  So, there are a lot of quick and positive changes that we can make in the new programme.

We launched the consultation during the summer, and that will roll out for another wee while.  There is a consultation event tonight, and I will be going to one on Thursday night.  That is an opportunity to listen at first hand to those who have been involved in the LAGs and the joint council committees (JCCs) and have been delivering the programmes on the ground.  That will make the programme successful in that there should be that bottom-up approach to delivering local projects in local areas and meeting the needs of those local areas.  So, I very much want to listen to the views of stakeholders, and I will shape the new rural development programme based on the consultation exercise.  I have no doubt that my door will be knocked constantly over the next wee while by people who have very strong views about how we deliver the new rural development programme.

Mr Anderson: I thank the Minister for that response.  LAGs do have a role to play, but Minister, would you consider using DARD staff and services to deliver more rural development schemes under the new common agricultural policy compared with that current model?  Would that not ensure that more money reaches the intended beneficiaries?

Mrs O'Neill: I think that the way that we do things with the bottom-up LEADER approach is very positive.  It is how I envisage that we will continue to do things in the future.  There are lessons to be learned.  I do not think that we will necessarily need all the structures that we have at the moment, but there may be ways that we can improve things, particularly around the current structure of JCCs and LAGs.  Do we need that in the future?  Again, that is all part of the ongoing consultation exercise.  I hope to be able to announce a position on the way forward later in the year or, certainly, in the early part of next year.

Oyster Farming

Mr Rogers: Bearing in mind, Minister, the recent meeting between DARD officials and oyster farmers, what steps are you taking to provide support for them at Carlingford lough and Lough Foyle after stocks were decimated by the recent virus in July?  (AQT 23/11-15)

 

Mrs O'Neill: As Mr Rogers rightly points out, officials met the oyster farmers who are affected and local representatives on Monday 2 September.  I am told that it was a very useful meeting.  Officials assured the industry that I am committed to assisting it where possible. 

I suppose that the position remains that there is no legislative provision to pay compensation for losses that were caused by fish disease, and the fact is that it was not an unusual event.  Over the past number of years, we have seen it happen not only in Ireland, obviously, but in other areas.  There have been reported mortalities in France going back as far as 2009, I think.  So, it is not an unusual event, but, that having been said, it has obviously had a very negative impact on the people who have been affected.  I am committed to working with the industry to see whether we can look at research possibilities because, obviously, we have to tackle that disease.  We have to be able to find a way to help the industry because we do not want the situation to continue.  This is something that could possibly happen to their crop, year on year. 

We will work with Sea Fish, which is the industry representative body, and the cross-border Aquaculture Initiative team, because this is something that has impacted in Carlingford lough, Lough Foyle and some of the bays that come under the jurisdiction of the Twenty-six Counties.  There are a number of key areas of work that we need to get involved with, particularly with regard to research and being able to tackle the disease.

Mr Rogers: Thank you, Minister.  You mentioned that no legislation exists locally.  Have you any plans to bring forward local legislation in order to provide a much-needed hardship package for those farmers?

Mrs O'Neill: As I said, I am very sympathetic to their plight, what has happened to them and the fact that they have had such major, substantial losses.  It is not just down to legislation; it is the fact that it is not an unusual event that is the problem.  Where I think I can assist those oyster farmers most effectively is in looking towards research, science and evidence and to why that problem is occurring and try to get to a stage where it is not a major factor.  I am aware of substantial losses to some of those people and that it is a very distressing time.  So, I want to make the commitment that we will work with them to provide advice and support and to look at how we eradicate that disease, which has obviously been a problem since 2009.

Common Agricultural Policy

Mrs Dobson: Can the Minister give the House an update on the specific effort she is making to ensure that the allocation key that is used to calculate the regional CAP envelope remains the same, so that Northern Ireland's allocation of the UK's envelope is not reduced?  (AQT 24/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: Yes, absolutely.  Over the past number of years, we have had very hefty debate in Brussels and have argued for regional flexibility, which I am very glad that we have been able to achieve.  Although we have had all those high-level discussions and we have the broad framework, decisions now have to be taken locally on how we best use the funds that are available to us and ensure that we design a programme that is fit for purpose and fit for the local industry.

As regards our allocation and share, we have seen Scotland coming out arguing for additional funding.  Unfortunately, we are starting with a base of a reduced budget overall.  I will certainly ensure that I engage with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) — as I have to date and will continue to do — to ensure that we get our fair share and are not disadvantaged compared with other areas such as Scotland, Wales and England.  I will continue to do that, and that discussion is ongoing.

Mrs Dobson: I thank the Minister for her answer. Will she inform us, in a bit more detail than she gave in her answer, what information she has received on the issue from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and whether she has sought or, indeed, received an assurance from him that things will not change for us here in Northern Ireland?

Mrs O'Neill: We are in the middle of a negotiation and that will go on until we reach a final conclusion.  I have engaged with DEFRA personally as have my officials, and that is ongoing.  As I said, I will fight the corner for our local industry to make sure that we get a fair allocation.  As I said, I am disappointed that we are starting off from a lower budget overall, but that is the case.  I will continue to negotiate strongly, and I expect that that will intensify over the next wee while.  I am happy to inform the House when we have a final settlement on the deal.  I am not engaging in the negotiation to come out with a poor deal for the Six Counties.

Agrifood Sector: Farmer/Retailer Relationships

Mr Craig: Minister, will you outline what your Department is doing to improve relations between the agrifood sector producers — the farmers — and the agrifood sector retailers?  There are big issues between the two.  (AQT 25/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: Absolutely; I totally agree with you.  I think that if you cast your mind back over the past year to 18 months, you will recall that we had the debate around farmgate prices and the campaign from the farming unions, highlighting the prices that farmers had been paid. 

Obviously, one of the areas that we — me and Arlene Foster, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment — strongly work together on and are engaged with is the whole agrifood strategy.  We now have that piece of work in place, and she and I are working our way through it in order to present an action plan to the Executive later in the year. 

One of the key messages to come out of that is that there needs to be fairness in the supply chain and that they are equal partners in the supply chain — the farmers should not be the ones who are continually squeezed — and that if we want to continue to grow our agrifood industry successfully, we need to work with all sectors and to make sure that the whole supply chain is appreciated and valued in equal measure.  A key area of work for me is making sure that those two key players work together.

Mr Craig: I thank the Minister for her answer. She pointed out a big issue:  how the profit margins of farmers are squeezed.  A lot of farmers fall into the small or medium-sized enterprise category — in fact, some of them are very small — and they really struggle with very small profit levels.  What can your Department do to aid small farmers on that issue?

Mrs O'Neill: Obviously, we have continual support in place by way of single farm payments for farmers.  We also look to offer support through the rural development programme.  Again, we will have a new opportunity to look at new ways of working and new opportunities for farmers.  We have had some excellent successes through the current rural development programme in assisting farmers, particularly around diversification, food production and improvements to premises  — all those positive areas of work — and I look forward to doing more of that in the new programme.

 

I am very keen to hear the views of stakeholders, including farmers, on how we shape the new rural development programme and on the types of support that they would like to see in place, because, obviously, we want them to remain competitive and sustainable into the future.

Rural Communities: Access to Facilities

Mr McElduff: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  What is the Minister's Department doing to improve access to high-quality facilities in rural communities?  I ask that in light of some recent criticism, which I feel is unjustified, about the way in which rural development programme money is being spent.  (AQT 26/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: I agree that the criticism is unwarranted.  I am thinking of some of the projects that I visited, particularly over the past couple of months.  Over the summer recess, I took the opportunity to get out and about to see for myself how the rural development programme money is being spent in rural areas, and I saw some very worthy projects.  We have to ensure that we support rural communities to be sustainable and to thrive into the future.  For me, that is very much the focus of the rural development programme, particularly axis 3 and some of the projects that we have been involved with.

There have been a number of smaller projects on the ground, but some of the bigger strategic projects would really make a difference to rural people's lives.  Quite often, people are isolated due to geography and where they live, so they have no access to services and have issues with transport — there is a whole gamut of issues.  For me, the rural development programme has been very successful in making sure that we assist rural communities to thrive and to be sustainable. 

There have also been a lot of positive measures to try to encourage young people to stay in rural communities.  As the Member will be very aware, many young people are now travelling abroad for work, and unless we are creative in working with communities to address what they need, I think that we will be failing those communities.

Those programmes are excellent and very worthy.  I look forward to the new rural development programme and to making sure that we can have more of those in the future.

2.15 pm

  

Mr Speaker: That ends the period for topical questions.  We now move to the oral questions on the Order Paper to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Strangford Lough

1. Ms Lo asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for her assessment of the progress of the Strangford Lough restoration plan. (AQO 4502/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  In October 2012, my Department and the Department of the Environment (DOE) agreed a revised restoration plan with the Ulster Wildlife Trust and forwarded it to the European Commission.  The plan reflects the recommendations contained in the 2011 Queen's University report for, first, protection, through the introduction of a large non-disturbance zone; secondly, intervention, through the appointment of a postdoctoral research fellow, experimentation with translocation of horse mussels and the creation of artificial reefs; and, finally, the monitoring of horse mussels to indicate whether recovery is taking place.

The revised restoration plan has been with the Commission since October last year.  Although the Commission has yet to formally comment on the proposals, we understand informally that it and the Ulster Wildlife Trust are broadly content with it.  In the meantime, both Departments have pressed ahead with the establishment of the large non-disturbance zone that was identified in the plan.  My Department has prohibited sea fishing in the area, and the Department of the Environment has introduced by-laws to restrict anchoring, mooring and diving in it.  Enforcement has been strengthened with the deployment of a full-time fishery officer for Strangford lough, and there has been a similar commitment from the Department of the Environment through the introduction of a Strangford lough ranger. 

All of those are critical actions to deliver the protection required by the revised plan.  Furthermore, I understand that a postdoctoral research fellow has been appointed to undertake pilot studies on restoration prior to full-scale restoration in the medium to long term.  My Department and AFBI carried out the first ever survey of the seabed, and that will result in a complete habitat map.  Progress towards recovery will be monitored.

Mr Speaker: Question 10 has been withdrawn.

Ms Lo: I thank the Minister for a very comprehensive answer.  I am delighted that there is now cooperation between the two Departments.  Is the Minister confident that the whole plan will go ahead, will be adequate in addressing the restoration and that we will not face infraction fines?

Mrs O'Neill: It is fair to say that we have carried out some very positive partnership work with the Department of the Environment.  As I said, we have not had formal confirmation from Europe, but it has indicated that it is broadly content with the approach that we have taken.  I think that the measures that we have set out are dealing with the issue, but we also want to create a sustainable fishery and must look towards the livelihood of the people who fish on the lough.  We must get a balance between the environmental concerns and the needs of people who depend on the lough.  I feel that the measures adequately address that.  We will keep this under review, and I am happy to keep the Member up to date, in her position as Committee Chair, as we move forward.

Mr McAleer: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Are the mussel levels recovering?

Mrs O'Neill: It is early days, but there are indications that horse mussels survive and clump when they are provided with a suitable habitat and are protected.  There is no indication at this stage of a significant increase in numbers, but it is early days.  It will take a bit of time before we will see progress, given that mussels are a very slow-growing and long-lived species.

Mrs Dobson: Progress appears to have been made on this sorry tale at last, and we are no longer faced with the threat of another infraction fine.  My colleague in the European Parliament Jim Nicholson received correspondence during the summer from Karl Falkenberg, director general of the environment for the Commission, in which he states that the file will be closed on the understanding that the actions that are proposed will be implemented.  Can the Minister detail what lessons she has learned from the whole saga?

Mrs O'Neill: I assure the Member that I take my role very seriously, and I think that we have been very positively engaged with DOE.  However, we must always get a balance between environmental concerns and people's livelihoods, because some people advocate that we should stop fishing completely, but where would that leave the people who depend on the lough? 

I think that what we have here is a very balanced approach.  We are very aware of the environmental concerns and are now very much engaged with the Ulster Wildlife Trust, and it is content with the approach that we have taken.  In the round, it has been a very positive engagement.  The Ulster Wildlife Trust had an issue, it raised it, and we addressed it.  It is as simple as that.

Fodder Crisis

2. Mr D Bradley asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to outline the steps her Department has taken to avert a situation similar to the fodder crisis during the winter of 2012-13. (AQO 4503/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: I believe that a joint approach by both government and the agrifood industry is the most effective one to take to ensure that another fodder crisis is averted in the coming winter.

To that end, I established the Fodder Task Force, bringing together representatives of and stakeholders in the agrifood industry, along with DARD, to consider the issues facing the livestock industry in the ensuing year and to produce an action plan to mitigate the effects of any potential problems.

To date, the task force has met on four occasions, and in July it agreed the action plan, which is available on the DARD website.  I plan to meet the task force representatives in the near future for an update, and although they do not intend to meet as a group until midwinter, they will get together in the interim if a situation develops and new actions are required.

There is much that farmers can do to plan for the winter ahead, and DARD has been very active in providing advice and support to ensure that they are well prepared.  The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) has embarked on a comprehensive programme of workshops, advisory events and publications, helping farmers to maximise fodder production, to stocktake their individual fodder supply and to manage their stock to make most efficient use of the available fodder.

The task force also brought together representatives of ancillary agrifood industries, with a focus on both the practical and emotional difficulties faced by the farming community.  Feed suppliers, banks and food processors recognised that it is in the interests of the whole agrifood industry to work together to help farmers through the challenging winter months.

Mr D Bradley: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a cuid freagraí.  Tá ceist agam uirthi i dtaobh lucht iompair fodair.  Creidim nár díoladh cuid acu go fóill, agus ba mhaith liom fiafraí den Aire cén uair a thig leo bheith ag súil —

Mr McNarry: Come on, Dominic.

Mr D Bradley: — lena gcuid íocaíochtaí?

Mr Speaker: Order.

Mr D Bradley: Is it all right for me to continue, Mr Speaker?

Mr Speaker: Yes.

Mr D Bradley: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you, Minister.

My question for the Minister concerns those who transport fodder.  My understanding is that some of them have not yet been paid.  When can they hope to receive their payment?

Mrs O'Neill: I will not get into individual situations, but the majority of transporters have been paid.  There may be a few outstanding issues that the Department is working with, but I am assured that it is a minute number.  If the Member wants to pick up on a particular company outside of Question Time, I am happy for him to call into the private office.

Mr Swann: Minister, you outlined the steps that your Department has taken to prepare farmers for the future.  Can you outline what steps it has taken, and is taking, to support the mental well-being of those farmers and their families who were affected during the crisis and to make sure that there is ongoing support for them?

Mrs O'Neill: I absolutely agree with you.  Given the difficult year that we have had in the farming industry — the prolonged winter last year; the snow; horse meat; all the issues that have been coming thick and fast at the industry; and, I suppose, the general economic climate — it has been a very difficult time for farmers.

I was delighted, therefore, that the task force took those issues on board, and it invited in people such as those from Rural Connect and the rural support network, which provide fantastic services to the rural community.  That work has continued.  We have also continued to work through CAFRE with Rural Support, and we are making sure that we take forward a number of workshops for CAFRE advisers so that they are well equipped to deal with people, because, as you said, mental well-being is something about which we all should be concerned  Everybody's mental well-being is a key concern, and it has to be a factor in any situations that cause financial or general stress to anybody.

Mr Milne: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  What is the current assessment of fodder stocks?

Mrs O'Neill: We have had a good summer, particularly the start of it, and the good weather has assisted growth recovery.  The final yield will not be known until such times as the growing season ends, which is upcoming.  I think that it is fair to say that the grass utilisation has been better than last year.  I also think that we are in a more positive situation.  However, as I said, the task force is happy to come back together and to keep the situation under review if we feel that, come the end of the growing season, there will be particular issues.  So, at this stage, the weather has been kind to us, but I suppose that it will depend on how we end up at the end of the growing season.

Metal Theft

3. Mr Beggs asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for her assessment of the problem of metal theft in rural areas. (AQO 4504/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: Responsibility for tackling rural crime rests primarily with the PSNI and the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Theft of any kind has an emotional and financial impact on the lives and fortunes of rural communities.  I am very aware of the worry that the level of rural crime causes among the farming community, and I have met with the Chief Constable, and with Minister Ford, on a number of occasions to make him aware of my concerns. 

One of the actions emanating from the rural White Paper action plan, which I launched in June 2012, was the Department of Justice's establishment of a rural crime unit.  That unit was launched in May this year and will use all available data sources to help to identify trends and patterns that will assist with preventative action, help to improve community confidence and, ultimately, reduce rural crime. 

Helping to build safer rural communities is also important for my Department.  My Department’s local CAFRE advisers are supporting the PSNI and farming organisations in raising awareness of measures that farmers can take to reduce incidences of crime on their farms.  In particular, they are briefing farmers on local initiatives and distributing information.  CAFRE, through its participation in the Farmwatch scheme at its Enniskillen, Loughry and Greenmount campuses, is encouraging local farmers to use this scheme as an important means to prevent rural crime.  The scheme is designed to help to reduce rural crime, and it uses technological tools to provide vital evidence in criminal investigations. 

So, I will continue to work closely with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the specific needs of rural dwellers are taken into account when developing community safety initiatives.

Mr Beggs: Stolen metal items can range from lead on roofs to redundant equipment, tractors or machinery that cost five- and six-figure sums.  Have the Minister and her officials attempted to quantify that cost in terms of repairs, replacement, disruption to business and any additional cost to insurance premiums?  That is a major cost to the industry in Northern Ireland, so has her Department attempted to quantify it?

Mrs O'Neill: It is not an area of work that we have been involved with.  I have been vocal in my role in making sure that we have raised the issues with the DOJ and the PSNI.  I welcome that the unit is now in place. 

The responsibility for gathering statistics of rural crime rests solely with PSNI.  In looking at some of the statistics that the PSNI has produced, I welcome that we have seen a slight reduction.  There is a difference between rural crime and agricrime, which the Member will be aware of, and the statistics that the PSNI has produced have shown a fall in rural crime and agricrime of 11·2% and 1·9% respectively when compared with last year.  Although that is positive, it is not enough.  We still want to do everything that we can to try to eradicate it.  Although those statistics are positive, I am aware of certain areas — Clogher Valley, for example — where there are particular problems with cattle theft. 

So, we need to keep our finger on the pulse and to continue to work together.  I am always willing to play my role in working with the PSNI and the Department of Justice when it comes to tackling and raising the profile of rural crime so that it is continually on their agenda.

DARD Headquarters: Shackleton Barracks

4. Mr G Robinson asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for an update on the business case for the proposed move of her departmental headquarters to the site at Shackleton Barracks. (AQO 4505/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: I directed my officials to carry out a business case addressing only the options for a new headquarters for my Department at Ballykelly.  The work to identify, cost and analyse the options to accommodate our headquarters on the Ballykelly site is complete.  It was informed by input from the accommodation options study produced by Central Procurement Directorate (CPD), the quality impact assessment and the staff surveys.  So, I expect the process to be completed by the end of October.

Mr G Robinson: I thank the Minister for her answer.  Is the Minister confident that any outstanding staff transfer issues will be resolved?

Mrs O'Neill: Apologies; I did not hear that.

Mr Speaker: Will the Member repeat his supplementary question?

Mr G Robinson: Is the Minister confident that any staff transfer issues will be resolved?

Mrs O'Neill: Absolutely.  I have said from the start of this process that I am committed to making sure that nobody would be forced to move.  Obviously, staff and staff satisfaction are key to that move.  Anybody who has a current contract of employment with the Department will have to have it honoured, so throughout the whole process, we have made sure that we have talked to staff representatives, and we have spoken to the trade unions to make sure that they were fully involved in the process.  I have now been engaged in three staff surveys involving Dundonald House headquarters staff, the wider Department of Agriculture and Rural Development staff, and the wider Civil Service.  I am content that, given the number of staff who have indicated that they want to move to the north-west, we will be in a great position to be able to move forward according to the plan that I have set out.

2.30 pm

Mr Byrne: Will the Minister confirm whether the business case is focusing on a newbuild of an office for 600 employees?  What does that do for a comparative analysis with locations?

Mrs O'Neill: Although I directed the permanent secretary to take forward the business case looking at one site, we looked at a range of options.  I will not go into the detail of the options, but there were three or four possible ways to take forward the project, and the business case examined all of those.  The Committee will be furnished with that in due course.

Mr McCarthy: I welcome the Minister's guarantee for the staff already in Dundonald House.  If some members wish to avail themselves of the transfer to Ballykelly, will any mileage allowance be given to assist them on that journey?

Mrs O'Neill: The Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), through human resources, will manage the movement of staff right across the Civil Service.  That will all be worked out and factored into the business case that will go forward.  All those issues will have to be considered.  We want to make sure that staff come forward.  I am quite enthused by the number of staff who live in the north-west area and are very keen to get a place of employment that is closer to home instead of travelling every day to the greater Belfast area.  I think that it is all manageable, and I am committed to working with staff to make sure that we look at their personal circumstances and that everybody is comfortable with the move.

Mr Lynch: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire.  I thank the Minister for her answer.  Has she engaged with staff to address any concerns that they may have?

Mrs O'Neill: Yes.  As I said, we have engaged with staff throughout the whole process. For me, making sure that people are content is key to the success of the process.  One of the key issues when talking to staff was the three-stage survey that I outlined earlier.  Initially, we talked to DARD headquarters staff in Dundonald House.  Next, we talked to the rest of the just over 3,000 DARD staff, and then we talked to the rest of the Civil Service.  I am quite pleased by the results.  A majority of the people who work in Dundonald House were less keen to move because DARD has been there for 50 years, and the majority of the workforce is probably made up of people who live locally.  However, quite a number — way over the number needed for the new headquarters — are very keen to move to the north-west.  I want to continue to engage with staff because, as I said, they are key to a successful move.

Ash Dieback

5. Mr McQuillan asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what action she is taking to support the landowners of recently planted ash trees affected by ash dieback. (AQO 4506/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: In July this year, Minister Tom Hayes and I jointly launched the all-Ireland Chalara control strategy in Dublin.  The strategy provides a framework for the implementation of our policy of identification, control and eradication of the causal agents of Chalara ash dieback in Ireland and sets out the actions that will be taken to implement it.  One of the actions is to provide grant support for woodland owners of recently planted ash trees affected by Chalara ash dieback to replant their woodland with alternative tree species.  Grant support is made within the scope of the existing rural development programme forestry grant scheme, which is operated by Forest Service and paid at 50% of the approved costs to support eligible operations.  To build further resilience in woodland in response to the growing risk of tree disease, the scheme will require replanting to result in at least three species to form significant components of the woodland.  I am particularly pleased that some suppliers of affected plants have acknowledged their commitment to their clients by reinstating affected plantations at their own expense.

To reduce the risk of the disease becoming established in our mature ash woodland and hedgerows, my Department will continue to require owners to destroy affected ash trees and associated debris.  Forest Service will offer help to private woodland owners participating in a forestry grant scheme to carry out that work.

Mr McQuillan: I thank the Minister for her answer.  I am sure that she will agree that this is a very worrying time for landowners of that type.  Any help or reassurance that she can give will certainly help to ease the pressure.

Mrs O'Neill: I totally agree with you, and, in some ways, we can be comforted by the fact that at this stage we have not found the infection in the wider environment.  In some senses, that is a positive.  I introduced grant support to assist people to restock.  If people depend on the income from harvesting the wood, they are concerned about what it means for their future.

Mr Hazzard: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Will the Minister outline what engagement her Department has had on ash dieback with industry stakeholders?

Mrs O'Neill: My officials have regular meetings and contact with stakeholders who are affected as a result of any plant health issues.  The meetings include updates on pest and disease recognition to help professionals and other stakeholders to report suspected cases.  My Department has established a group of stakeholders that has met on four occasions to date to give advice and, in conjunction with officials, to develop policy recommendations in response to Chalara ash dieback.  In addition to the information that is available from a dedicated plant and tree health link on the DARD website, a plant health helpline number and an e-mail address are in place to deal with specific enquiries, and stakeholders are aware that the Department has a fast map system within its GIS technology in place to advise on the up-to-date position on the disease.

Mr Kinahan: I did not fully understand where landowners will stand in line with grants that they were to get or are yet to get for trees that have had to be uprooted and whether they will get further grants when they plant again.  They will have more costs in putting plants in.

Mrs O'Neill: I will clarify:  we have had only three applications for the grant so far.  There is one grant per project, but, if you have more than one project, you can come forward for each project.  If you have numerous plantings, you can come forward.  I will certainly provide the Member with more details of the scheme, but, to date, only three people have come forward.

Common Agricultural Policy

6. Mrs Overend asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for her assessment of the level of simplification achieved to date in the agreement on the reform of the common agricultural policy. (AQO 4507/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: The starting point for CAP reform was the Commission’s original proposals, which were widely regarded as being complex.  In the negotiations to date, I have achieved a lot in simplifying the Commission’s original proposals, particularly on greening and the mechanism to move to a flat rate.  On greening, the exemption of predominantly grassland farms with small arable areas from crop diversification and ecological focus area requirements has been an important achievement.  I also achieved flexibility to allow us to monitor permanent grassland at a regional level as opposed to an individual farm level.  These are positive developments for our industry, which is predominantly grass-based agriculture.

It has to be acknowledged, however, that the political agreement reached between member states and representatives of the main political groups of the European Parliament in June this year will introduce a more complex direct payments system than the current regime.  We will, for example, move from a single payment regime to a minimum of three separate payments with options for more.  The agreement will place additional obligations on some farmers, particularly around greening.  The agreement provides a considerable degree of regional flexibility, which will enable me to meet local needs better when taking key decisions.  The need for simplification will certainly influence the decision-making process.  I intend to consult on my proposals for CAP reform over the next month, and I look forward to constructive stakeholder engagement throughout that process.

Mrs Overend: I thank the Minister for her response.  What engagement has her Department had or plans to have with member states or regions that have a track record for implementing a simplified CAP that is workable on the ground at farmer level and is cost-achievable to the administrator?

Mrs O'Neill: We will always look towards good practice.  If there is a better way to do something, we will look to it and learn from it and improve what we do.  We have a great opportunity now to shape the programme to make sure that it suits local needs, which is why I look forward to the engagement and consultation process that we will take forward over the autumn and winter.  In some senses, when we agreed the framework in Europe, that was nearly the easy part.  It will be difficult when we take local decisions and deal with competing interests from different sectors in the agrifood industry, but we are open to engagement.  We all have the same ambition in wanting a sustainable agriculture system and making sure that we continue to grow the agrifood industry under the agrifood strategy recommendations.  We have a great opportunity in front of us now to shape the new rural development programme to suit the needs of our industry in the period ahead until 2020.

DARD Headquarters: Rivers Agency

7. Mr Craig asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for an assurance that the headquarters of the Rivers Agency will not be included in the relocation programme for her Department's headquarters. (AQO 4508/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: At this year's Balmoral show, I announced that Rivers Agency headquarters would relocate to the Loughry college site in Cookstown.  At the same time, I announced that fisheries division would relocate to south Down, and I had previously announced that Forest Service would relocate to Fermanagh and the rest of the departmental headquarters to Ballykelly.  I have now agreed with my officials that those four relocations should be taken forward as separate projects under the governance of the HQ relocation programme board.  Each of the four projects will have its own specific project plan and time frame.  However, there are many synergies between the projects, particularly in areas such as HR, finance, ICT and project management structures, so it is appropriate that such resources and knowledge are shared across the four projects where possible.

Mr Craig: What level of consultation will take place with regard to the employees there?  Will the Minister also take into account the views of a lot of those employees, who do not wish to move anywhere else?  Will you outline to the House what the rationale behind the movement of the Rivers Agency is, as it has a facility that is relatively new?

Mrs O'Neill: Rivers Agency was due to move, actually.  Its headquarters are not in great condition.  When we looked at a site for the Rivers Agency to move to — well, I will start at the start, actually: for me, it is about a fair distribution of public sector jobs.  For me, that is the principal point of what we are trying to achieve, with fisheries going into County Down, the Rivers Agency going into Loughry and forestry going into Fermanagh.  That is a fair distribution, which we have not seen to date in public sector jobs.  For me, that is a major win.  There are all the associated benefits that will come from those wins, including any construction costs, ongoing maintenance and footfall into those areas.  So, for me, it is a major win for the Executive that we are leading the way in delivering public sector jobs on a fair basis. 

In terms of the move itself, as I said from the start when I talked about the headquarters move, I am very keen to engage with staff.  I have done so in respect of the Rivers Agency move.  The Loughry site is a great site, particularly given the fact that Rivers Agency is an emergency responder that needs to get out quickly on to the main network.  Cookstown is in a prime location to allow it to do that.  It has a great central location; it has access to the road network; and we also have the Loughry site in DARD's own portfolio.  So, for me, it is an excellent site for it.  I am always going to engage with staff as we move forward.

Mr Hussey: Can the Minister detail how many jobs are actually involved in the relocation of the Rivers Agency headquarters?  Will the number in Cookstown be the same as the number of those currently employed in Belfast, or will there be a divergence?

Mrs O'Neill: It is intended that all of Rivers Agency, in the main, apart from those who are based in local offices, will move, so the headquarters staff will move to Cookstown.  I do not have the exact figure, but I think that 50-odd staff will move.  As I said from the start, I want to make sure that staff are happy with the move and that all staff are content that their circumstances are taken into account.  That is all part of and inherent in the process that I am taking forward for all the moves.

Bovine Tuberculosis

8. Ms Brown asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for an update on her Department's bovine tuberculosis control programme. (AQO 4509/11-15)

Mrs O'Neill: My Department has a robust EU Commission-approved TB eradication programme in place that is based on testing to detect infected cattle, removing infected animals and reducing the risk of disease spread through movement controls and other biosecurity measures.  The same disease-control measures are applied to both beef and dairy herds.  That rigorous TB eradication programme will continue to be a priority to ensure continued access to the export trade by our livestock and livestock products industry, which is worth over £1,000 million per year.

I am pleased to report that the rise in TB herd incidence that we witnessed last year, which peaked in October at 7·46%, has since reduced to 6·63% at the end of July.  So far this year, there has been a 24% reduction in the number of animals removed as TB reactors and a 15% reduction in the number of new herd breakdowns when compared with the same period last year.  However, I am not complacent about that.  The aim is obviously to achieve a sustained and progressive reduction towards the ultimate eradication of TB here.  Work is ongoing to reassess the current programme and identify any additional actions that would enhance our current approach to TB.

In the coming weeks, when this work is concluded, I will announce any proposed additional measures to further strengthen our robust programme.  In addition to our EU-approved programme, I will continue to invest in TB research and learn from the outcome research undertaken by other Administrations to enable us to refine our approach to TB in light of new scientific developments.

2.45 pm

Culture, Arts and Leisure

Mr Speaker: Again, we will start with topical questions.

Seamus Heaney

Mr McGlone: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle — [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order.

Mr McGlone: Will the Minister advise whether her Department will honour, promote and recognise, in conjunction with other stakeholders, the great work of our Nobel laureate, the late Seamus Heaney, allowing sensitively, of course, for a respectful period of bereavement?  (AQT 31/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín (The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure): I thank the Member for his question.  I think that he put it in the proper context of what is the appropriate time for bringing anything forward.  I am really keen to make sure that Seamus Heaney's legacy is marked, not just through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) but on behalf of the Executive and, indeed, the entire Assembly.  He has left us a wonderful gift of literature that will pass and endure from one generation to another.  I think it appropriate that we do something or some things to reflect the esteem in which he is held.  So, I am keen to do something.  If the Member has any suggestions on what that would look like, particularly given that he is from the parish and knew Seamus personally, I would be really keen to hear what they are.  It will come as no surprise to hear that there are lots of things out there, but I want to do something that each Member of the Assembly would be proud to be associated with.  The life of Seamus Heaney needs to be marked.  It would be a sin for that not to happen.

Mr McGlone: Go raibh maith agat, a Aire, as an fhreagra sin.  I appreciate what the Minister said.  I would be more than happy to work with her, as time moves on, to achieve that aim.

Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band

Mr Storey: Over the summer, when the House was in recess, the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band won its ninth world championship in a row and, for the first time in over 60 years, secured a win in the drum corps, of which a member of my constituency Mr Aaron McLean is a very proud member.  In light of that success, will the Minister confirm to the House what arrangements she has put in place to give a public reception and acknowledgement for what is an outstanding success for this band and our marching bands in Northern Ireland?  (AQT 32/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. I have a list of achievements that happened over the summer; the Member is right to say that there have been many.  I think it totally appropriate that we have a public reception here as an expression of our gratitude and to congratulate the marvellous achievements that have been made so far; not just the achievements, but the skills and expertise that those role models can pass on to up-and-coming musicians.  I am more than happy to support the pipe band.  I am more than happy to have a public reception up here.  The Member has attended receptions that I have hosted before.  I think that every Member of the House would be more than happy to attend to show their appreciation and to give congratulations.

Mr Storey: I thank the Minister for her reply.  We look forward to that event taking place.  In light of that recognition, will the Minister assure the House that she and her Department will continue to support marching bands, as they play an integral part in the very rich tapestry of culture in Northern Ireland?  Will her Department do everything it can to make sure that the appropriate finances are made available to bands such as Field Marshal, and others, which, at their own expense, put a huge amount of money towards keeping bands on the road and going to competitions such as the world championships?

Mr Speaker: I know that we have only started topical questions, but they really need to be a question.  I do not mind if Members want to develop their question, but certainly not to the point where it is almost a statement.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I will be briefer than the Member who questioned me.  Yes, yes and yes.

Windsor Park Redevelopment

Mr Girvan: Will the Minister give an update on the redevelopment of our national stadium at Windsor Park?  (AQT 33/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I assume that the Member's question is around the latest row over governance and appointments.  The Member will be aware, and I am sure that he will appreciate, that neither DCAL, nor I or anybody else should be involved in or be in the middle of any democratic election process.  I am sure that he will accept that.  This is where the "however" comes in:  any organisation that is in receipt of funding from government, regardless of which Department that comes from, has an appropriate responsibility to ensure that governance is upheld.  DCAL is working with the IFA to review the implications of the recent changes to its articles and associations, and I need to be assured that the appropriate governance and accountability structures have been maintained to fully meet the needs of DCAL.  Until I receive that assurance, I will not sign off on any agreement regarding the redevelopment at Windsor Park.

Mr Girvan: In light of the answer that I have received, is it possible for an update on the state aid issue about the EU funding associated with the project?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The state aid issue is still not resolved.  I am sure that the Member is aware that I am taking this issue to Europe, so there really is no update, except that it is business as usual.  I am working away on the basis that Windsor Park needs to be redeveloped to a standard that is fit and that we are all proud to have.  However, certain issues, particularly around governance, need to be satisfied.  That is one aspect, but I am still working away on the state aid issue in the confidence that those issues will be resolved and we will move on.

Ulster-Scots Funding

Mrs Hale: Will the Minister tell the Chamber what specific progress she is making to build on the work of her Culture, Arts and Leisure predecessors in ensuring that the Ulster-Scots cultural tradition is funded on the same basis as the Irish language?  (AQT 34/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: To be totally frank about it, there is a cigarette paper between what my predecessor was doing and what I am doing.  The Ulster-Scots Agency, the academy, the network and the ministerial advisory group, through the academy, have continued to bring forward programmes and funding opportunities for groups, and I will continue to do that.  So, I believe that good progress has been made, particularly in the past year.  I had a meeting recently with the Ulster-Scots Agency, and I am quite happy — in fact, I am more than happy — with progress to date, and I think that there are some very exciting plans to be unveiled by the Ulster-Scots community in the coming months.

Mrs Hale: I thank the Minister for her answer.  She will be aware that a view has been held in the Ulster-Scots community that it has been disadvantaged over the years by direct rule.  Can the Minister confirm to the House what she is doing to ensure that those years are consigned to history?

Ms Ní Chuilín: In fairness, I think that we all could make that claim.  I think that we have all been disadvantaged as a result of direct rule.  Since 2007, local Ministers, particularly around Ulster Scots and the Irish language, have made sure that any gaps in provision, which, in my view, were deliberate, have not only been filled but that we do better than that in respect of fulfilling our statutory obligation to languages, and I think that we are moving in the right direction.

City of Culture: Legacy Plan

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  The Minister will be aware of the ongoing success of Derry City of Culture, but will she outline who is responsible for the legacy plan for the future?  (AQT 35/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: DCAL committed £12·6 million to Derry city for the City of Culture, and it was quite happy to do so.  The basis of that funding investment came with conditions, and the conditions for Derry City Council were that it had to produce a legacy plan because, as I have said consistently in this House and will say again, I do not want people to wake up in that city on 1 January 2014 with nothing.  I think that we all owe the people in that city much more than that, and I am working with Derry City Council and others to produce a legacy plan that we are all happy to sign off on.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire.  There is absolutely no doubt that the money that has come from the Department and, indeed, across the Executive has made a qualitative difference to the outcomes for the City of Culture.  However, it is very important that we have a legacy plan.  Can she outline the detail of how she thinks that should unfold?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am sure that the Member will appreciate that certain things in the legacy plan have not even been signed off.  However, we are looking at things that target poverty and that provide better opportunities for social inclusion across the city.  It struck me in some of the work that was done in the Gasyard, Nelson Drive and other places, for example, that there are people, particularly older people, who worked together for years but who, because of geography and people moving, had not seen each other in years.  It would be a real shame if we could not fund examples like that.  However, we also need to look at infrastructure around sport, the creative industries and the arts.  I cannot guarantee that, on 1 January 2014, I will provide another £12·6 million or that the overall package from the Executive, which is over £30 million, will be there.  However, we need to step up to the plate on where we go with our investment for future years.

Sports Grounds: DCAL Support

Mr McQuillan: What help and support will the Minister's Department give to new regional sports grounds like the one planned by Coleraine Borough Council at Rugby Avenue?  (AQT 36/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am sure that the Member will appreciate that I have not yet seen the Coleraine plan.  However, I have met people from some borough councils, which, at times, forget that they have a statutory responsibility for leisure — we will put that to the side.  I am happy to look at where we can bring provision together for better investment.  If there is better investment from local councils and government, you get a better product and citizens get a better service.  I am keen to look at it.  If the Member wishes to bring a delegation on that particular plan to me, I will be happy to meet them to see what, if anything, I can do.  However, I am not aware of that.

Mr McQuillan: Thank you for your answer, Minister.  I understand that you are due to visit Coleraine very shortly to see the plan; I think that it is next week.  If you want to make a cash investment, that would be welcome.  Support in any shape, form or fashion is always welcome.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am due to see Bann Rowing Club, which we have invested in, and some others.  I hear lists of initiatives in geographical areas that are in the pipeline and being developed.  I am sure that the Member has been approached by his constituents, the council and other groups that are bringing proposals forward.  I am happy to go to Coleraine, and I am happy for a Coleraine delegation to come here.  I am happy to talk to everybody.

Hurling: BBC Coverage

Mr Dallat: The Minister will be aware that, for the first time in history, the Antrim under-21 hurling team is in an All-Ireland Final, where they will play Clare.  What representation has the Minister made to the BBC to reverse its decision to not televise that game?  (AQT 37/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: In short, I have not made any representation to the BBC.  This has been the subject of ongoing discussions and conversations with broadcasters around all-Ireland sports, because, basically, they are acting in a partitionist way in my view.  I am delighted that it is my county, but I understand that, as a Derry man, you are happy to enjoy Antrim's success.  We are being denied an opportunity to see wonderful skill and sportsmanship because the match is not being broadcast.

Mr Dallat: I am happy to declare that I was born in County Antrim.  When the Minister makes representation to the BBC over the next day or two, will she remind them that they give a lot of coverage to schools' rugby and the Milk Cup, of which I am also an enthusiastic supporter?  I hope that she is successful in persuading the BBC to reverse its decision, which I feel was unfair.

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am happy to do that.  I also have ongoing discussions with, in particular, sportswomen, who are not covered either by the BBC or other networks and broadcasters.  There is a disparity.  It is good that the three big sports are covered; I am happy that they are covered.  However, that coverage is disproportionate to the coverage received by other sports and other codes within sports.

Boxing: Funding

Mr Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Will the Minister outline how funding for the sport of boxing will be brought forward?  What are the plans for clubs that need to be either refurbished or rebuilt?  (AQT 38/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am happy to say that the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) signed off on a letter in August that meant that much-needed equipment started to go into clubs.

3.00 pm

I think that it is fair to say — as I have said to the IABA, Sport NI and others — that I am unhappy with the speed of that initiative.  It was launched last year but has only started to get on the ground from last month.  So, that is the equipment end, which involves small grants, as I am sure the Member appreciates.  Capital needs are separate.  Most of these boxing clubs are in a poor state, despite the excellence that they produce.  Technical consultants are going out to do assessments.  I believe that, so far, 66 clubs have expressed an interest in having either a new club or a refurbishment.  As far as I am aware, that process should start in early to mid-October.

Mr Speaker: That ends the period for topical questions.  We now move to oral questions.

World Police and Fire Games 2013

1. Mrs McKevitt asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what she anticipates will be the legacy of the World Police and Fire Games 2013. (AQO 4517/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for her question and I am sure that she agrees that the World Police and Fire Games was a tremendous showcase of what we have to offer.  I am committed to taking forward new initiatives inspired by the games to create a legacy that will have a positive impact on the lives of local people.

We have 3,500 volunteers who are keen to volunteer again and to share their stories and experiences.  I want to help to train and develop more volunteers for the culture, arts and leisure sectors, give them accredited skills and new opportunities and help them to further their careers or return to work if that is what is needed.

I also want to use sport to inspire young people, particularly those who are disengaged.  My officials are exploring ways to further develop the relationships that were built between schools, communities and the services during the games.  I am keen to develop a new generation of sports ambassadors and sports champions.  We have demonstrated that we have the ability to produce them.  We have also demonstrated that we have the ability to host and produce huge world-class events in music and sports.

Mr Speaker: Questions 10 and 12 have been withdrawn and require a written response.

Mrs McKevitt: I thank the Minister for her reply.  I suppose that the volunteers, visitors and competitors got a taste of the friendliest games ever over the summer months, not least in my constituency of South Down, which hosted a number of the World Police and Fire Games events.  Does the Minister's Department have any plans for legacy projects in my area?

Ms Ní Chuilín: Not specifically in Down.  As the Member is aware, even though quite a lot went outside Belfast, it was Belfast that bid for and hosted the World Police and Fire Games.  As a result, when we look at overall legacy plans, we will need to look at the areas in which the sports were held.  I cannot give a definitive answer as to what we will be doing, when we will be doing it and where, perhaps, we will be doing it.  At the moment, we are looking at schools being able to apply for equipment — for example, 45 defibrillators — that was donated.  Other equipment used in the games has been donated to the governing bodies.

As a result of the World Police and Fire Games and the athletes using the excellent local facilities that we have, I have no doubt that that will help to sustain those facilities in the future.  The facilities were able to demonstrate that they could host such a large event, and that will help them in their long-term sustainability with DCAL and Sport NI.

Miss M McIlveen: As a volunteer at the games, I am delighted that Minister recognises their volunteering legacy.  What discussions have she and her officials had to prepare bids to host other major competitions such as, perhaps, the World Games?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I have had no discussions with officials about hosting the World Games so far, but I will certainly raise it as a result of this question.  I am delighted that the Member was a volunteer.  So, too, was a previous Member, Conall McDevitt.  I just missed meeting him when I went into the Waterfront Hall.  I am sure that the Member can testify that the experience of the World Police and Fire Games will stand us in good stead.  We would be quite proud to apply to host future games, whether the World Games or any others.  I will certainly make enquiries and write the Member with an update.

Ms McCorley: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí go dtí seo.  Will the Minister provide details of the number of people who observed events during the World Police and Fire Games?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for her question.  At the minute, we are still trying to bring in all the figures.  I know that the Odyssey was able to calculate attendance by looking at ticket sales and at the number of people who went through its doors.  It estimated that something like 50,000 people attended the Odyssey to watch ice hockey.  From getting around Belfast and going to places such as the Mary Peters Track for the track and field events, I could see that thousands of people were there.  I know that we got great weather; the weather was very kind to us.  There were thousands at the Dub, and the boxing finale at the Ulster Hall was absolutely huge.  I think that it had full capacity.  Anecdotally, I have heard across the board that the attendance at events, particularly in Belfast, which I saw, was in the thousands, and that is as well as the exact figure that the Odyssey has given.  I think that that was really great to see.

Mr Cree: The Minister quite rightly referred to the 3,500 volunteers.  Perhaps, Minister, you could develop a little more how you intend to build on that goodwill and, in fact, encourage volunteering in sports.

Ms Ní Chuilín: Last year, Volunteer Now did an excellent job in preparing volunteers for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  We were very lucky to have that experience and that pool of interested people for the World Police and Fire Games.  The Member may be aware of this, but if he is not, I am happy to say it again.  Some 3,600 volunteers were needed for the World Police and Fire Games.  We got well over 6,000 applications.  We got applications from areas that, in the past, would not necessarily have enjoyed a great relationship with some of the services.  I think that that was a success.  So, we are really keen to go back to those people to try to develop opportunities for them to get involved not only in major sporting events but in some of the cultural and sporting infrastructure that we have.

Rugby: Northern Ireland Team

2. Mr Wells asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what steps she is taking to ensure that rugby players from Northern Ireland will be permitted to compete in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Rugby Sevens tournaments. (AQO 4518/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: Responsibility for nominating players from the North to participate in international, multisport competitions, including the Commonwealth Games, rests with the governing body of the sport concerned, which, in the case of rugby sevens, is the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).  Players are selected for such competitions in accordance with arrangements mutually agreed between the body and the council responsible for sending a local team to the competition.  Rugby players can compete for selection for Team Ireland and play in the Olympic rugby sevens tournaments.

It is up to the local governing body of rugby sevens and its international federation to decide to give teams from the North of Ireland an opportunity to participate in the Commonwealth Games.

Mr Wells: Does the Minister accept that a Northern Ireland rugby team would be extremely strong and, indeed, could be a medal prospect in the Commonwealth Games?  Will she join with me in condemning the anti-British and anti-Northern Ireland stance of the IRFU, which has consistently denied British citizens born in Northern Ireland the opportunity to compete for their country?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I will not agree with one word that the Member said.

Mr D Bradley: Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a freagraí.  An dtig liom an cheist seo a chur ar an Aire?  Cad é mar a mheasann sí Béal Feirste mar ionad do na Cluichí Comhlathais san am atá romhainn?  Can I ask the Minister what her assessment is of Belfast as a future venue for the Commonwealth Games?

Ms Ní Chuilín: As I said in my answer to his colleague Karen McKevitt's question, Belfast has demonstrated that it can host huge and major sporting events.  It can certainly punch above its weight.  I am hopeful that Belfast will be in a position to consider perhaps hosting the Commonwealth Games in the future.  It certainly has the facilities, the infrastructure, the experience and the attitude to do it.

Mr Ó hOisín: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, agus gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire.  How many sports will be represented in the Commonwealth Games next year?  Cá mhéad spórt a bheidh ag glacadh páirt sna cluichí sin?  Would she care to estimate how many medals we might be in line for?

Ms Ní Chuilín: So far, the medal target is five, I think.  That seems a bit low, but that is what it is; it is in the strategy.  There are at least 13 sports so far, ranging from badminton, table tennis, swimming, netball, men and women's bowls, cycling, boxing and gymnastics, to name but a few.  However, I imagine that that may change.

Funding

3. Ms McGahan asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline how she will promote better funding opportunities for groups outside the Belfast City Council and Derry City Council areas. (AQO 4519/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: My Department's funding is channelled through its arm's-length bodies (ALBs), which put forward annual proposals for programme expenditure through their business plans.  I will approve only those proposals that are in line with the Department's key priorities, in particular those that promote social and economic equality and tackle poverty and social exclusion.

In further considering business plans, DCAL will also determine whether any redefinition of funding would promote better opportunities to communities outside the cities of Belfast and Derry.  Other possible actions would be for the Executive to give this matter consideration under Together:  Building a United Community.  Additional collaboration between Departments and sponsor bodies may also be helpful.  Indeed, when the new councils are formed under RPA, there will be opportunities under community planning to further examine this issue.

I want to assure the Member that I will continue to monitor how our ALBs are seeking and considering innovative ways to ensure better promotion of funding opportunities for everybody across the North, regardless of where they live.

Ms McGahan: Go raibh maith agat.  I thank the Minister for her response.  How will she encourage more applications from areas outside Belfast and Derry?

Ms Ní Chuilín: Organisations that I think do that well are the Arts Council and NI Screen, as well as the Sports Council and libraries.  It is important that people do not feel that they get those services by postcode.  As part of the regular monitoring and evaluation of the business plans from the ALBs, I will seek to ensure that there is an attempt to provide services and facilities outside the cities.  If the Member has any specific examples in her constituency that she would like to bring to my attention concerning any of the ALBs or services under DCAL, I would be happy to take a delegation.

Mr Humphrey: I hope that the Minister will agree that, at the same time, Belfast and Londonderry should not be disadvantaged when it comes to any such decisions.  Equally, however, I agree 100% with the sentiments about equality, social deprivation and exclusion, and so on.  Does she agree that local councils must step up to the plate, as Belfast and Londonderry clearly have?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I agree with the Member.  Even in our city, there are geographical disparities:  for example, the north and west do not fare as well as the east and south.  That is a fact, it is on the record and it is not propaganda.  However, we need to make sure that the cities are not disadvantaged and that the money that we are investing in the cities and towns and villages is distributed proportionately.  At times, I can understand why colleagues who come from rural communities look at the big cities and feel that they get a lot while their local communities do not get enough.  There is an imbalance there, and we need to correct it.

Mr Rogers: I welcome the Minister's answer about monitoring how money is spent.  Does she have any idea of the percentage of arts funding that is received by areas outside Belfast and Derry?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I have no idea of the percentage, but I am happy to write to the Member.  I met some groups recently from outside Belfast and Derry who made complaints and raised concerns.  They are doing wonderful work but feel that they are not getting enough support.  As a result of those meetings, I have asked for an update on the situation, and I am happy to share that information with the Member.

Ms Lo: What is the Minister's assessment of the work of the intercultural arts programme, which is for ethnic minority artists?

Ms Ní Chuilín: Again, I am surprised that the Member did not say that the programme needs additional funding because that seems to be the nature of the lobbying going on.  The programme does excellent work.  The Belfast Mela is the most recent example of that, and the crowds that gathered in Botanic Gardens were unbelievable.  That was not surprising.  The Mela is an example of an arts and culture event where people from different walks of life and backgrounds sat very comfortably with one another and enjoyed the spectacle.  I am very conscious that there are many other examples, even where there is the exclusion of minority ethnic communities, of where better investment in arts could help to end that exclusion.  I will look at the percentage of funding for that programme in relation to the question asked by the previous Member, and I will write to the Member.

3.15 pm

Commonwealth Games 2014

4. Mr Storey asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what involvement her Department has had in preparation for the arrival of the Queen's baton as part of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. (AQO 4520/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: Responsibility for preparations for the arrival of the baton as part of the Commonwealth Games rests with the Commonwealth Games Council, which, as the Member knows, is the lead body for Commonwealth sport here.  DCAL, through Sport NI, continues to work closely with the council as it takes forward its preparations for the 2014 Glasgow games.

I refer the Member to my previous answer to the Assembly on 18 June, when I advised that the council, which has been engaging directly with the organising committee of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, is considering events to be held between 20 and 23 May 2014, when the baton relay will visit here.  I understand that this is still the case and that the Commonwealth Games Council will provide further details on events that are planned for the arrival of the baton in due course.

Mr Storey: I thank the Minister for her answer.  Our difficulty is that there are very few specifics.  I understand that there is a Northern Ireland committee, and the Minister referred to previous answers that she has given to the House.  Will she assure us that her Department will not simply give this to Sport NI to organise but will be proactive, as was the case when the Olympic torch came to Northern Ireland?  Will she assure us that we will have a specific event that Northern Ireland can celebrate and be part of, given the importance of the Commonwealth Games?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member is right to make the comparison with the Olympic and Paralympic torches.  Initially, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) basically asked us to behave ourselves and to accept what we were given and be grateful for it.  We did not do that.  LOCOG came to appreciate our value for and commitment to major sporting events, and, as it turned out, we had a really good relationship.  However, it was not easy at the start.

Sport NI is not directly responsible for this; it is the Commonwealth Games Council.  Sport NI sits on the board, as does DCAL.  I have the same energy and commitment to providing details and to making sure that there are events that people can attend as I have had with any previous sporting event that I have been involved with.  I give the Member an assurance that, with this, I will not take a different course from last year.

Mr Boylan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a freagraí.  I thank the Minister for her answers.  Will she provide an overview of other preparations and plans ahead of Glasgow 2014?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member will appreciate that, even in relation to the principal question, a few events will happen here as part of the Commonwealth Games.  They have not yet been confirmed, and I am reluctant to get into specifics.  The baton relay seems to be the one that is most talked about.

There are two groups: an operational group that is looking at day-to-day running; and a task and finish group that looks at events and athletes' performance.  I am due to receive an update report at the end of this month or the beginning of October.  I am happy to write to the Member and to Mervyn Storey to give them updates on events that will be held here as part of the games.

Mr Allister: Will the Minister give an assurance that, as has been the situation historically, Northern Ireland competitors will compete under the Northern Ireland flag, more properly known as the Ulster banner?  Is she supportive of that?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council, to give it its full title, is working with governing bodies and athletes.  It does not want people, particularly politicians, who sit in the back and constantly point to the front and make silly remarks about very sensitive issues.  The Member should support all the athletes, regardless of how they designate themselves, as I do in going forward. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order.

World Police and Fire Games 2013

5. Mr Ross asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for her assessment of the success of the World Police and Fire Games 2013. (AQO 4521/11-15)

7. Mr Irwin asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for her assessment of the World Police and Fire Games 2013, including the number of competitors, countries represented, spectator numbers and the legacy of the Games. (AQO 4523/11-15)

14. Mr Maskey asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for her assessment of the economic benefits provided to Belfast and further afield by the number of athletes and visitors to the World Police and Fire Games 2013. (AQO 4530/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take questions 5, 7 and 14 together. 

The World Police and Fire Games was the largest sporting event ever held here, and it is with great pride that we are able to look back on a wonderful fortnight of sport, colour and community involvement.  I think that we can all agree that an excellent, professionally run international sports event was delivered.

A full games evaluation report will be produced by 2014.  As an immediate snapshot, I can reveal that almost 7,000 athletes and technical support staff from 67 countries registered for the games.  Athletes came from across the globe, with competitors from Canada, New Zealand, Peru, China and Nigeria, to name just a few.  As I mentioned, in excess of 5,000 spectators attended the ice hockey events in the arena.

Mr Ross: With the success of the Irish Open last year and the World Police and Fire Games this year, we have shown that we can hold major events in Northern Ireland.  I am sure that everyone in the House is looking forward to the Giro d'Italia next year and, hopefully, major golfing and rugby events in the not-too-distant future. 

I listened with interest to the Minister's reply to Mr Bradley, who asked whether Northern Ireland or Belfast was capable of holding the Commonwealth Games at some stage in the future, and she said that we had the infrastructure.  I do not think that she is entirely right, because surely for that to happen we would have to have a velodrome somewhere in Northern Ireland.  On that basis, is the Minister intending to examine whether she could fund a velodrome in Northern Ireland so that we would have the full infrastructure that would allow us to bid for a Commonwealth Games in Northern Ireland?

Ms Ní Chuilín: With regard to a velodrome, I have asked for an update on need.  There was a gap since the last report was done, and the business case did not stand up.  I am sure that the Member is aware of that.  However, I think that there is a need.  The sport has become very popular.  You are right: we would look really foolish bidding for sporting spectacles such as the Commonwealth Games when we fall far short with regard to a velodrome.  I will look at that over the next couple of months, and the process will involve business cases along with everything else.  If it stands up, I am happy to bid for the money.

Mr Irwin: It was anticipated that 15,000 visitors would accompany the athletes to Northern Ireland.  Did the actual visitor numbers live up to the expectations?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I am not sure.  I have heard a couple of different figures, but they have not been substantiated.  Altogether, one of the consistent figures was at least 10,000 visitors.  However, because I am answering questions, I want to make sure that there is a separation between athletes and visitors — athletes and visitors who came solely for the World Police and Fire Games and were not already here and kind of joined in.  There was a bit of that as well, although not much.  When I receive the report, I will be happy to share that information with the Member.

Mr Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Will the Minister outline to the House how the cost of delivering the World Police and Fire Games here compares with the cost associated with London 2012 and the projections for the games in Glasgow 2014?

Ms Ní Chuilín: This is where the money starts to get a bit scary.  Although I answered the question in sincerity to Dominic and Alastair Ross, the World Police and Fire Games cost less than £14 million.  I know that it might not be the best comparison, but £9 billion was spent on the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the estimated cost of the games in Glasgow in 2014 is £523 million.  That is big money.  Maybe they have to start building pools, velodromes and other infrastructure that we have here already.  However, DCAL and the Executive funded less than £7 million towards the World Police and Fire Games.  The World Police and Fire Games company, along with sponsors, came up with the rest.  The Member — all Members, I am sure — will agree that it was money well spent.  I am sure that there will be a big return in terms of money spent in Belfast.  However, the figures are fairly small in comparison with what was spent in London and what, it is estimated, will be spent in Glasgow next year.

Mr Lyttle: Has the Minister any plans to explore the possibility of bringing the international cycling conference, Velo-city, to Belfast?

Ms Ní Chuilín: I do not have any plans.  Lots of competitions have been mentioned.  Rather than saying, "Why?", I take the attitude of "Why not?".  What happened during the summer around sport and cultural activity, particularly in Belfast, lifted people, despite what was going on in other parts of the city.  It provides a good example and good role models for young people in particular to stay in sport and for people like myself, who are not so young, to re-engage in sport.  Where we can hold and host competitions, we need to have a look at doing that.

Lough Neagh: Net Fishing

6. Mr Milne asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline what proposals are in place for issuing net licences for Lough Neagh in the next 12 months. (AQO 4522/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: The licensing regime for the regulation of commercial fishing on Lough Neagh is established in the Fisheries Act (NI) 1966, as amended, and the Eel Fishing Regulations 2010.  The fishing rights for Lough Neagh are controlled by the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Limited.  My Department issues licences annually in line with legislative requirements and subject to the applicant fulfilling any specific criteria attached to particular licences.  The co-op issues licences permitting fishermen to fish for eels.  The only proposed amendment to the licensing regime on Lough Neagh for 2014 is the prohibition of the taking of salmon by draft net.  That is one of a suite of salmon conservation measures that I am proposing, and my Department is consulting on the draft legislation to be put before the House.

Mr Milne: Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí go dtí seo.  What is DCAL doing to establish a fishing management plan for Lough Neagh?

Ms Ní Chuilín: There is a need for a fishery management plan for Lough Neagh that will provide a strategic approach to inform decisions and future management and regulation, particularly when you look at events that have arisen around protection and, indeed, conservation on Lough Neagh.  In my opinion, that plan requires baseline information and the current status of the fishery resource to inform management decisions.  The Member may be aware that the Department has commissioned AFBI to undertake work along the Lough Neagh catchment area.  When AFBI reports back to DCAL, only then will we be using scientific evidence and working with the co-operative to bring plans forward.  I am committed to making sure that there is long-term sustainability around Lough Neagh.

Mr Kinahan: How is the Department offering support to the Lough Neagh eel fishery and when will that scientific evidence from AFBI be finalised and inform us on the way forward?

Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member will be aware that we are working closely on the lough, particularly around the eel management plan.  The eel management plan on Lough Neagh is an exemplar in not just the North or this island but in Europe.  It has been important for the co-op that its scientific investigations with AFBI were used to review the current eel management plan and to inform patterns of health and conservation across Europe.

I have no specific date for when the plan will be finished.  The Member will be aware that amendments are going through Europe around eel management conservation and eel management plans.  We have a deadline for those, and I expect that the scientific evidence will be completed well before those amendments are due to be heard in Europe.

Sectarianism in Soccer

8. Mr McElduff asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for an update on how the Irish Football Association is challenging sectarianism in soccer, including how she intends to support and enhance its work. (AQO 4524/11-15)

Ms Ní Chuilín: Ultimate responsibility for challenging sectarianism in soccer rests in the first instance with the IFA.  Although the IFA continues to take forward measures in this area, such as its Football for All campaign, it is evident from recent sectarian abuse, particularly that suffered  by Cliftonville players Liam Boyce and Conor Devlin, that more needs to be done.

On 15 April 2013, I advised the Assembly that I intended to commission research to establish what else could be done to help to address the issue and, indeed, to support the good work of the IFA.  I am pleased to report that that research has been commissioned, and a survey exercise has commenced that aims to assess public awareness of and attitudes to sectarianism in football.  Interviewees will be asked whether they have experienced sectarian behaviour at matches within the past five years.  The research will seek to include experiences on and off the field.  That has started, and I am sure that we all look forward to the results.

Mr McElduff: Go raibh maith agat. What programmes will the IFA deliver with additional moneys provided by DCAL?  Does that funding include looking at how sectarianism is being challenged as well as promoting good relations?

Ms Ní Chuilín: It does, because it is focused on promoting equality and tackling poverty and social exclusion through sport.  It is also used to monitor and target the impact of sectarianism within the sport, so that is conditional as part of the funding.  The IFA has done some really good work.  I am keen to build on that, but there is a certain ignorance and people are avoiding the issue of sectarianism when it occurs.  Regardless of where it occurs, when it does occur we all need to say that it is not on.  To use an old adage, we need to give sectarianism the boot in soccer.

3.30 pm

Private Members' Business

Mutual Respect and Reconciliation

Debate resumed on amendment to motion:

That this Assembly notes with grave concern the violence and disorder over the summer months; deplores the activities of all those who engaged in acts of violence against local communities, elected representatives, and the PSNI; affirms the commitment of all elected representatives to promote a culture of tolerance and reconciliation and to act in a way which promotes mutual respect rather than division; and to work constructively to find long term and sustainable solutions to contentious political issues in the best interests of the communities we serve. — [Mr G Kelly.]

Which amendment was:

Insert after “PSNI;”:

"condemns those who damaged community relations by engaging in commemorations glorifying the acts of terrorists;". — [Mr Newton.]

Mr Buchanan: The motion before us looks good and sounds good.  To the eyes of the world, as they look on at the debate in the House today, it looks good.  It portrays Sinn Féin in a good light, when really we have wolves in sheep's clothing.  We have a motion, as has been said by other Members, that is full of Sinn Féin rank hypocrisy.  It is about the promotion of equality and reconciliation, when Sinn Féin and especially the proposer of the motion, Mr Kelly, have done all in their power over the past few months to damage community relations right across Northern Ireland.  In fact, what have we seen Sinn Féin do in the last few months in Northern Ireland?  I will tell you what it has done: it has waged a cultural war against the unionist people and their tradition in Northern Ireland.  The motion speaks of tolerance and respect.  I suggest that the Sinn Féin party does not know the meaning of those words.

Mr Storey: I thank the Member for giving way.  If you want a prime recent example of that, just last weekend in the village of Dunloy in my constituency, the Orangemen were, for the thirteenth year, prevented from walking to their church to conduct a religious service with the Dunloy Accordion Band and about 20 members of the Orange Institution.  There are no dissidents in the village of Dunloy, although you can never be sure.  That was driven by Sinn Féin because of its intolerance for a different culture and tradition.

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

Mr Buchanan: Thank you, Mr Speaker.  I thank the Member for his intervention.  The House is yet to see respect and tolerance from Sinn Féin for unionist culture in Northern Ireland.

Mr McElduff: Will the Member give way?

Mr Buchanan: No, sorry.

The evidence is simply not there.  Of course, the old cliché always bears out to the end: actions speak louder than words.  We have heard a multitude of words but have seen very little action. 

Sinn Féin says it is concerned about violence and disorder, which we all condemn, but I have yet to hear its condemnation of all the IRA atrocities, not only in my constituency of West Tyrone but right across Northern Ireland and further afield.  Is it not of interest that, while the amendment seeks to add words of condemnation to the motion that were blatantly omitted by Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin still does not want them included?  Sinn Féin does not want to have the words of condemnation included.  As far as it is concerned, there is no condemnation of IRA terrorism.  Instead, there is a glorification, relishing in the dastardly deeds it carried out in the past.  An old proverb comes to mind: a leopard cannot change his spots.  Well, let us make it clear from the House today that you cannot reach out the hand of reconciliation while waging a cultural war and showing neither tolerance nor respect for the community that we on this side of the House represent.  It simply will not work.

I note that the motion states that we should:

"act in a way which promotes mutual respect rather than division".

It is a pity that Mr Kelly did not think of that before he came to Castlederg to glorify terrorists on a murder mission.  The parade was condemned by all political parties and a large section of the Roman Catholic community, which stood alongside unionists in utter disgust at such an event in Castlederg.  Indeed, that event was described in the House by Mr Alban Maginness, both in the debate yesterday and the debate today, as a "coat-trailing" exercise by republicans that was totally unacceptable.  I ask Mr Kelly what that has done to community relations and reconciliation in Castlederg.  Of course, he probably would not know.  Well, let me spell it out for you.  What the innocent victims of Castlederg have said is on public record.  That march by a dissident republican rabble —

Mr G Kelly: Will the Member give way?

Mr Buchanan: No, I will not give way. 

That march set community relations back by at least 20 years.  Here we have a party tabling a motion that calls for reconciliation, good community relations and a strategy for the future of community relations.  Yet, what has it done by its own actions in Castlederg?  It has set community relations back by 20 years.  Those are the words of victims in the Castlederg area.  I would go further because I believe that, for some in the Castlederg area, the situation is beyond repair.  That is simply because Sinn Féin would not listen and drove a coach and horses through the situation.

I will refer to the remarks of some Members during the debate.  Mr Newton, when he proposed the amendment, said that Northern Ireland wanted to move forward into a shared space.  How can we move forward when, as William Humphrey said, we have Sinn Féin naming play parks after terrorists?

Mr Speaker: The Member must draw his remarks to a close.

Mr Buchanan: It campaigns for the release of murderers, and its opposition to the Orange Order shows that it has no tolerance for the unionist community.

Mr Speaker: The Member must draw his remarks to a close.

Mr Buchanan: Again, I challenge Sinn Féin: is that its conception of reconciliation?  If it is, it will not work.

Mr Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I want to say at the outset that I do not intend to take any interventions because it is the last contribution to the debate.  Therefore, I just want to make my own concluding remarks.

I say to the House that we have certainly had a bad year.  There is no question in my mind that, since the end of last year, throughout this year, to this very week, we have had difficulties surrounding what were described as flag protests but actually ended up degenerating very quickly into roadblocks, intimidation, riots and more difficult issues, such as attacks on people's homes at interface areas.  We then moved into what used to be called "the silly season".  Unfortunately, circumstances are such now that we should not call it that. 

During the parading season, contrary to the argument that we have heard yet again in the past couple of minutes from a number of unionists about a so-called cultural war, there were over 3,000 parades, most of which are actually uncontested throughout the year.  Most of those parades are by the loyal marching orders, as they are described.  However, yet again, we have witnessed serious and routine breaches of Parades Commission determinations; sustained rioting; very many people, including many police officers, being injured; millions of pounds being squandered; and untold damage done to community relations.  I am not in a position to say how many years we have been set back.  However, certainly the community I represent look at unionism now almost with despair and dismissal in so far as they say that there is no unionist politician or leader who is capable of leading their community into a more positive future, particularly working with their nationalist and republican neighbours.  As I said, that is what we are left with at the end of what is called the parading season.  It has been a long and difficult year.  We are now in a situation where community relations are, perhaps, at a very low point. 

I do not really want to go into a rehearsal of what other Members have said.  However, I want to draw attention, because I think that they are particularly illustrative, to remarks by the Member Mike Nesbitt when he lamented the events at Castlederg.  He said that unionism had been getting up a "head of steam" until the remarks that were made by Ruth Patterson on social media.  That illustrates a complete and utter disgraceful and cynical exploitation of victims who may live in and around the Castlederg area and probably further afield.  Shame on Mr Nesbitt, particularly given his former representation as a victims' commissioner, for advising the House that he considered that unionists had been building up a head of steam.  To me, that is equal to exploiting cynically victims' views and sensitivities.

Unfortunately, over the past two days in the Assembly, we have already had all the negativity that we need and, in fact, more than we can afford.  It overshadows much of the good work that a number of Ministers and others have alluded to and have been involved in on behalf of all of us throughout the Assembly and in the Executive.

In the next three months, we will have a new opportunity through discussions chaired by Richard Haass.  He, as we all know, is an eminent diplomat who brings his international imprimatur to the talks.  Of course, the downside is that, if we fail to reach agreement on these key contentious issues, we will be ridiculed and lose the confidence of the international community.  That would be very damaging for all of us.  We all know that the international community has been very supportive of all of us over the past number of years.  Failure to reach agreement on these issues will represent a serious setback in our international credibility that could lead to a potential loss of investment, tourism and so on.  Richard Haass faces a serious uphill struggle, but, on behalf of Sinn Féin today, I wish him the greatest success in chairing the talks in the next number of months.

The motion is about the Assembly sending out a message with a united voice not only against all the difficulties that we have experienced throughout the past year, which many of us have highlighted, but, more importantly, about what we are about and how we are going to resolve to work together with integrity.  In other words, we must resolve the issues, identify the problems, take the initiative, reach agreements and stick to those agreements with integrity.  I remind Members that the motion not only commits us to expressing our concerns about what has happened throughout the year but determines that we should work together constructively to find long-term and sustainable solutions to our problems.  The Sinn Féin motion does precisely that, by calling on us to work together and to move forward in a positive environment into the Haass talks, which, as I said, are coming up very soon.  It is interesting and, indeed, illuminating that that is precisely the section of the motion that unionists have sought to remove, and other Members of the House and other parties appear willing to support that.  So it is precisely the important aspect of the motion, which is about agreeing to work together to resolve the problems that we all face, that is actually being deleted.  I think that that illustrates where people are at.  They are quite prepared to come in here today with another rant, as they were yesterday, but not to say what they will do in the weeks and months ahead to resolve the problems.

Clearly, parties around the Chamber do not agree on the past.  As far as I am concerned, there will never be a single narrative about our troubled history, and I would defy anyone to tell me that there can be a single narrative.  Certainly, if you have listened to what has been said here in the past couple of days, you would know that we are nowhere near any agreement on our history.  Facts are facts, and people will interpret them, as they have done.  As far as Sinn Féin is concerned, although we do not agree on the past, we certainly can and must shape our future.  That is very important.

We have had a bad year.  If the public have been watching the Assembly for the past two days, they could be forgiven for saying, "They should just close the place down".  If Members think that they are going to sit here for the rest of the term and hear themselves talk, maybe they need communal therapy on their inability to embrace change and forward and progressive thinking.  If Members think that they can spend the rest of this term going backwards and trying to unpick a lot of the very good things that have happened in the past number of years — almost 20 years throughout the whole peace process — I have to say that I would share the public's sentiment: close it down.  If we are not here to solve problems and give hope to the people we collectively represent, we should not be here at all.

It was mentioned earlier that Sinn Féin and the DUP have a very important role in the upcoming talks, but I would add that so do all others.  There is no hiding place for any party in the coming weeks and months.  I have heard a lot of rhetoric, but, unfortunately, friends, rhetoric will not replace the need for substance in these discussions.  I look forward to seeing what practical proposals people and other parties put forward during the Haass talks.  As I said, it is all very well saying that Sinn Féin and the DUP have to solve all these problems, but we cannot solve them on our own.  In fact, none of the parties here has been able to do that thus far.  That is why we are have someone as eminent as Richard Haass coming to join us in the next number of weeks.

So, I say to all Members that we have a very important role.

3.45 pm

I do not want members of the public to be listening to the Assembly at the start of a new session and asking, "Is this what we are going to hear all over again?".  We have come through a very difficult year, and millions of pounds of public money has been squandered.  Where are all the arguments that we heard years ago that "That incident last night would have provided 20 new hips for people in hospital, or could have been used to employ 100 new nurses or so many teachers"?  We need to and should deliver all those things for the people we collectively represent.  People need to bear it in mind and remind themselves that, in my opinion, the mood in the previous election campaign was very simple and it was this: it was a very good job that we held the Assembly together and that was all very important and people were appreciative of that, but they were telling the parties very clearly to get in there this term and deliver for people.  It is shameful that we have squandered millions of pounds, injured hundreds of people, including many police officers, and have seen the homes of many families in this city and beyond attacked over the past number of months, without a peep from some political representatives in some cases. 

The Sinn Féin motion has been described as everything but a cunning plan, but it was a carefully considered motion.  It was designed not to go over every incident and every comment from the past year but to say that we have all had to confront a problem in the past several months.  More importantly, we have to commit ourselves now to working —

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

Mr Maskey: — constructively and positively in the weeks and months ahead to resolve the problems that all the people we represent suffer while we sometimes speak more hot air than light up here.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Assembly divided:

Ayes 65; Noes 25.

AYES

 

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Mr D Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Byrne, Mr Clarke, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Mr Eastwood, Mr Elliott, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Ms Lo, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCallister, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCausland, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr McGlone, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McQuillan, Mr A Maginness, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr P Ramsey, Mr G Robinson, Mr Rogers, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir.

  

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Buchanan and Mr G Robinson

NOES

 

Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr Brady, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr G Kelly and Ms Ruane.

The following Member voted in both Lobbies and is therefore not counted in the result: Mr Agnew

Question accordingly agreed to.

4.00 pm

Main Question, as amended, put.

Mr Speaker: I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 27(1A), there is agreement to dispense with the three minutes and move straight to the Division.

The Assembly divided:

Ayes 65; Noes 25.

AYES

 

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Mr D Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Byrne, Mr Clarke, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Durkan, Mr Easton, Mr Eastwood, Mr Elliott, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mrs D Kelly, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Ms Lo, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCallister, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCausland, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr McGlone, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McQuillan, Mr A Maginness, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr P Ramsey, Mr G Robinson, Mr Rogers, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Buchanan and Mr G Robinson

  

NOES

 

Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr Brady, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr G Kelly and Ms Ruane.

The following Member voted in both Lobbies and is therefore not counted in the result: Mr Agnew

Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly notes with grave concern the violence and disorder over the summer months; deplores the activities of all those who engaged in acts of violence against local communities, elected representatives, and the PSNI; condemns those who damaged community relations by engaging in commemorations glorifying the acts of terrorists; affirms the commitment of all elected representatives to promote a culture of tolerance and reconciliation and to act in a way which promotes mutual respect rather than division; and to work constructively to find long term and sustainable solutions to contentious political issues in the best interests of the communities we serve.

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

Private Members' Business

Compensation Policy

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate.  Two amendments have been selected and published on the Marshalled List.  Amendment No 1 has been tabled by the proposer of the motion.  The motion and amendment No 1 will be proposed together and wound up together, with 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech.  The proposer of amendment No 2 will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to make a winding-up speech.  All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.  So that Members are clear, there will not be an additional 15 minutes for the debate, as amendment No 1 will be moved and wound up at the same time as the motion.

Mr Givan: I beg to move

That this Assembly rejects the shift in compensation policy that led to a substantial award following the death of a Real IRA member at the hands of the same organisation; recognises that the change in policy is a significant break from past practice and inconsistent with previous treatment of victims of terrorism and crime; and calls upon the Minister of Justice to intervene immediately to prevent this payment.

I also beg to move amendment No 1:

Leave out all after "Justice" and insert

"to launch a review of compensation policy and reverse this unnecessary, unwanted and offensive policy change."

I thank the Business Office and the Minister for working with us to get the amendment in and helping to keep it technically correct.  Let me put it on the record that we appreciate the help in doing so. 

Members will be familiar with this case.  During the summer it caused considerable controversy.

Obviously, it pertains to the position whereby relatives of a convicted criminal and member of a terrorist organisation received compensation for his death.  It was a brutal death that he was subjected to by the paramilitary organisation of which he was a member.  Let me put on record that I understand and appreciate that, for that particular family, the way in which Kieran Doherty lost his life was brutal and is to be condemned.  I acknowledge the pain and hurt that they clearly will have felt.  However, it is important that we look at the broader principle and the broader issues that society needs to consider when it comes to addressing issues around compensation payments to people.

4.15 pm

It is widely recognised in the compensation schemes that exist that the compensation paid out will vary, depending on the circumstances of the individual affected and their history.  Members will know that, initially, compensation was refused.  It was the appeal stage at which an award was made.  I would like some clarity on a number of points.  Maybe the Minister will be able to shed some light on what information changed to warrant the appeal tribunal changing the original decision.  Obviously, the police and intelligence services provided information that warranted the initial refusal because of the particular circumstances pertaining to the individual.  We would like to know whether that decision by the appeal body has been reviewed by the Department.  Is there any mechanism whereby the Minister can challenge the decision that was taken to reverse the initial decision?  Is it open to the Minister to take a judicial review of that particular decision?  I am interested to hear whether that can happen. 

It is worth noting that there was inaccurate reporting of the figure at the time.  That was very unhelpful.  Subsequently, it was revealed that the sum of money was not the £200,000 figure that was originally reported.  That caused considerable hurt to people at that time.  The media should take note of that and be careful about reporting things without knowing the accurate figures.  Nevertheless, regardless of the quantum of compensation paid to the family of Kieran Doherty, it is the principle that is very important in all this and that gets us to the key issue — one of the key issues that the Haass talks need to deal with and one that repeats itself in the debates that we have been having.  It is this:  what is a victim?  That goes to the kernel of the hurt and pain that was caused to innocent victims by the awarding of that money.  It was particularly poignant to hear from the relatives of those who suffered in the Omagh bombing by the Real IRA, the organisation responsible for this death, when they spoke of the pain that they had suffered.  That was encapsulated, I thought, by what Michael Gallagher said:

"It's quite wrong to think that people engaged in terrorist activity, when they come to a sad end, are then viewed in the same light as a victim.  I can never understand how the victimiser can be equated with the victim."

That sums up the position of the Democratic Unionist Party when it comes to these issues.  There can be no equality of victimhood.  When people say that there should be no hierarchy of victims, we say, yes, there should be.  Very clearly, there should be a hierarchy of victims.  There are innocent victims and those who served in the security forces.  When they lost their lives, they were innocent victims.  That is not comparable to the two individuals who blew themselves up at Castlederg.  They were not victims; they were victim-makers.  We cannot afford to lose that distinction between innocent victims and victim-makers.  That moves us to the rewriting of history that is being sought by the republican movement.  They use language such as "combatant", "conflict", and "war".  They say that we are all victims.  They say that we are all guilty with respect to what happened during the period of the Troubles.  Well, we are not all guilty.  There were those who did not join paramilitary organisations; and there were those who did.  There were those who supported the rule of law and the forces of law and order; and there were those who took up the gun to kill innocent people and challenge the authority of the day.  There is a very clear distinction, but now we talk about equality, we talk about victims in the round and in general.  As our party goes into the Haass talks, we will not be signing up to anything that includes that collective "everybody is a victim" because it is not the case.  There is a clear distinction when we talk about it, but it is the propaganda war that Sinn Féin is pursuing about what is a victim.

The payment of compensation is meant to be for injury as a result of a violent crime.  It has tended to be an expression of public sympathy and support for innocent victims.  That is what the basis of compensation payments is meant to be about; an expression of public sympathy and support for innocent victims.  In no way can a compensation payment made to anyone who was in a terrorist organisation, of whatever description, be regarded as showing public sympathy or support.  That is not the case, and it should not be the case.

In the past, payments made to innocent victims and security force personnel were derisory.  They were not what they should have been, but it was about showing some element of public sympathy for what they had suffered.  For many, the award made to someone who had served in a paramilitary organisation added insult to the injury of that derisory award that many of them received in years gone by.  It is something that needs to be challenged, and I trust that the Minister will be able to assist us in how we go about challenging it.

The Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 defines a victim, and I suggest that that is probably where we have got a bit of the genesis of how this has been changing in the compensation system, because that order, which this party sought to change in this Assembly, defines a victim in that collective speak.  Eames/Bradley made the same mistake and said that there needed to be a payment made regarding everybody who lost their lives during the Troubles, and it is that collective element that is a problem, and it has its genesis in the 2006 Order.

Mr Allister: Will the Member give way?

Mr Givan: I will give way.

Mr Allister: The Member may well be right about that being a contribution to the sentiment that now prevails in the current arrangement, but is it not the case that the Criminal Injuries Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 revoked the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, and that it was the 1988 Order that ruled out compensation for anyone who was or had been a member of an unlawful association?  Was the 2002 Order not a follow through to the iniquitous Belfast Agreement, which wanted to exculpate from exclusion those who had previously been involved in terrorism?  Is that not the real genesis of the change that was made?

Mr Givan: That takes me to some latter points, but where I am coming from is that this was something that we sought to change in 2006.  At that time, the SDLP thwarted the change that was being sought through the private Member's Bill that my predecessor, Jeffrey Donaldson, sought to bring through the Assembly.  That is something that I hope that the SDLP will consider in the Haass talks.  The party did the right thing when it came to the Member's private Member's Bill on special advisers.  The SDLP changed its position on that, and I appeal to the party to change its position on this issue; but it does go back to 1998 and the Belfast Agreement and changes that were made then.  It also goes back to the 2001 victims strategy, which the Ulster Unionist Party signed up to.  It stated:

"The surviving physically and psychologically injured of violent, conflict related incidents and those close relatives or partners who care for them, along with those close relatives or partners who mourn their dead."

So, in 2001, we had a victims strategy that came out of the then OFMDFM.  The 2006 Order reflected the sentiments of what was in that initial victims strategy, which, of course, was born out of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

I support the motion.  I appeal to Members to support the motion as amended, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's contribution.

Mr Elliott: I beg to move amendment No 2: Insert after "crime;":

"notes with regret the grave offence which has been caused to many, including and most notably those innocent victims of terrorism, by this award;"

I am sure that, like other motions here today and yesterday, there will not be overall agreement in the House on this particular issue.  The one aspect that annoys me most about this particular case is the inequality between the compensation paid to this particular person's family and that paid to other families whose members were killed by means of terrorism and as a result of the Troubles.

I have to say that I have the greatest sympathy for this person's family; that is without question.  Most people in the community would have sympathy with that family and, in particular, with how Mr Doherty came to his death.  However, I do not believe that that excuses the paying of substantial compensation.  I am not sure what "substantial" means.  As Mr Givan outlined, different figures have been put on that.  Whether it is substantial or otherwise, I and the Ulster Unionist Party oppose the principle of paying compensation to the families of people who were members of terrorist organisations.

I fully appreciate the issue about the definition of a victim.  The Ulster Unionist Party tabled amendments to the Victims and Survivors Bill in 2008 that were not accepted.  That was very unfortunate.  Those amendments would have assisted and made the significant change to the definition of a victim that was required. 

However, we are now up against a new redefinition, namely the redefinition of a terrorist.  In recent weeks, we have heard Mr Gerry Kelly indicate that he does not believe that he was a terrorist.  Minister Ní Chuilín's response to a question from me made it quite clear that that party does not accept the definition of a terrorist.  To me, anyone who blows up members of the public, murders members of the public without due cause, is a member of an illegal organisation or shoots a prison officer in the head is, by all definitions, a terrorist.  I do not believe that that can be compromised to any degree or in any fashion whatsoever.  I and my party will certainly be raising that issue in the Haass talks, because we do not want any further redefinition.

Mr B McCrea: I appreciate the Member's giving way.  Mr Allister raised the point that it was the 1988 Order that had the result of saying that if you have a terrorist past, you get no compensation.  Sir Kenneth Bloomfield's review in 1998 then led to the 2002 Order.  A former leader of the UUP made the statement that just because you have a past, does not mean that you do not have a future.  That is when the change came in.  I wonder whether you will clarify the UUP's position on those documents.

Mr Elliott: I thank the Member for that.  Of course, when the Member was in the Ulster Unionist Party, he also declared that just because you have a past does not mean that you cannot have a future.  Obviously, Mr McCrea, you seem to bear that out.  I actually believe that just because you have a past does not mean that you cannot have a future.  However, that means that there needs to be reconciliation and an acceptance from the people who have that past that they have clearly changed and that they want the process to change.  They need to show remorse for the actions that they carried out.  The problem is that we have people here who have not shown that remorse and who have not accepted their wrongdoings.  I think that if there was that acceptance among all communities and people from every side, that would help us to move the process in Northern Ireland forward much more quickly and in a way that is much more conducive to the wider community's needs.

4.30 pm

I will go back to the victims of terrorism over the past 30 to 40 years.  I have personal experience of speaking to families and people whose husband, father, brother or sister was murdered in the Troubles.  I think that the pittance that has been offered to some of those families is absolutely shameful.  Indeed, I recall a personal friend who was murdered back in the 1970s.  I remember his wife telling me that she was offered something like £750 in compensation for the murder of her husband, who was a police officer.  In fact, even though she had three small children, she was told that she could go back to work and gain employment to help to keep her family.  She was told that even through her husband had been murdered — blown up — and the family torn apart by the actions of terrorists who, I can tell you, had no love for Northern Ireland and none for their fellow Irish citizens, if that is what they want to call them.  I would like to hear those people explain today why they felt the requirement to tear that family apart and whether they believe that that offer of compensation was wrong.

I support the motion and the amendments because I believe that we need a change that will ensure fairness in the system.  I do not believe that there is fairness when the family of someone who was killed as a member of a terrorist organisation receives compensation.  It is not fair; it is not equal.  I heard Mr Givan say that he believes that there should be a hierarchy of victims.  Unfortunately, at the moment, there is a hierarchy of victims.  Those who were perpetrators and are classified as victims should not be classified as victims.  That is why I believe that there is, at this stage, a hierarchy that should not exist.  Those people do not have the right to be classified as victims, and I will always maintain that they should not be.

Let us hear those who committed dastardly deeds over the past 40 years come out and explain why.  I beg of them not to try to change the definition of a terrorist.  By all accounts, in Northern Ireland, they are terrorists.  They will be recognised as such, and this is just a part of their attempt to rewrite history.

I hope that we do not have to go through this process again and that the families of the innocent victims who were murdered do not have to live through this again, a situation in which a family member is diminished by the giving of compensation to the families of terrorists.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  Beidh mé ag labhairt in éadan an rúin agus an dá leasú.  Creideann Sinn Féin go bhfuil an dlí agus an reachtaíocht ceart agus cothrom mar atá siad.

I will speak against the motion and the two amendments.  However, I acknowledge and appreciate the comments made by their proposers in recognition of the pain and suffering of the Doherty family.  That will not go amiss in this debate, and it has to be appreciated.  I do not want to say anything about a compensation claim that will add to the trauma of any family, but there are things that need to be said.

Sinn Féin contends that the legislation as currently framed and the regulations that flow from it are, in the main, equitable and fair.  There are some issues on which we have reservations, but we feel that the process is fair and equitable.  It gives due recognition to loss and allows the family to seek compensation.

In this particular case, I think it fair to say that the family followed due process as laid out by the law.  They should expect no less, and, indeed, they were treated in the way that they should have been treated.  There may be some issues that they will articulate from their point of view, but the process was there for them to follow, and they followed it.  That is what we have to do here as legislators.

Let us come to the main motion.  When I read this motion last week, I have to say that I found it a bit illogical and impractical.  I thought that, perhaps, if I said that, I would be accused of being critical for the sake of it.

In my opinion, however, the fact that Members had to come today and amend their own motion speaks volumes for the way in which people have reacted to the incident.  It was a knee-jerk reaction.  What we have seen today is Members trying to get in first and, by doing so, not thinking the issue through.  In essence, the motion, as it is laid before the Assembly, is calling on the Minister of Justice to do something that he does not have the power to do.  The motion asks the Assembly to call on the Minister to interfere in due process and to do something that is ultra vires and beyond his power.  An Executive Minister proposes that, in essence, the Minister of Justice break his code of ethics or code of conduct, which is why the motion is ill considered and illogical.

Amendment No 1 calls for a review of the compensation policy.  That is fair enough, but we will not support that because, first, we think that the compensation regulations are fair and equitable, and, secondly, we think that the proposers of the motion and those who endorsed it today were caught out by their own illogical position.  We will not support that.

Given the way in which the motion has been presented, it is as if there has been a recent shift.  Two Members pointed out that this was changed in 2002.  The first case to get compensation, in the circumstances of this case, is not the case that we are talking about today.  There have been other cases.  I do not like to do this because I know that families are grieving for their loss, but the people who have been compensated through the scheme in the past are people who were connected to loyalist organisations and were killed by loyalist organisations.  I sought to look at the press releases and Assembly questions in the Research and Information Service's information pack.  It includes all the questions that Members asked relating to the scheme.  I do not see a single person, particularly not the proposers of the motion and the proposers of the amendments, asking one question about whether it was right or wrong, fair or unfair that a loyalist who was killed by a loyalist organisation received compensation.  I believe that the family were entitled to due process as laid down by law, and they got it.  The reason for the knee-jerk reaction is that no one raised the issue then, when it was not a concern.  We are, therefore, left to draw the conclusion that the only reason why people are objecting is, first, because of the internecine strife that is going on within unionism, and, secondly —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Mr McCartney: — the fact that there is almost a knee-jerk reaction when you hear the words "republican", "nationalist" or "Catholic".  That is why we will reject the motion and amendments.

Mr P Ramsey: First, I want to come from the perspective of a constituent of mine who was brutally murdered but also to reflect on that constituent's family.  The motion is very insensitive; it homes in on one family and identifies that family.  I spoke to Kieran Doherty's mother this morning.  That mother finds the motion hurtful and distressing, and it causes her further anguish.  During the debate, I will go into the circumstances.

Are the Members opposite saying to me that Christine Doherty from Derry is a second- or third-class citizen?  Are they saying to me that Christine Doherty is a second- or third-class victim in society?  She is a mother who is grieving badly and has been traumatised badly by the brutal execution of her son Kieran.  That is the point in question.  We have to be in the real world.  Are Members opposite saying that that mother was a terrorist?  Is any Member telling me today that that mother committed a crime?

Mr Elliott: I thank the Member for giving way.  He will appreciate that I said that I had the utmost concern for the family in their time of grieving, particularly considering how Mr Doherty was murdered.  I never indicated that I believed that the mother or any family member were terrorists.  However, it is quite clear and is accepted that the son who was murdered was a terrorist, and it was because of him that compensation was paid.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

Mr P Ramsey: I want to pursue that further.  Is the Member telling me that the tears on Christine Doherty's face and her broken heart are any greater or lesser than those of a mother whose son may have been in the Police Service?

Mrs Foster: Will the Member give way?

Mr P Ramsey: Yes.

Mrs Foster: No, that is not what we are saying at all.  The Member needs to reflect on what he is saying, because money does not compensate for tears or for what has happened to her son and for the fact that he was so brutally murdered.  We are not saying that at all, but there has to be a realisation that if people take up arms to terrorise other people then there has to be a consequence for that.

Mr P Ramsey: That is the last intervention that I will take.  It is a very emotive and sensitive subject, and I appreciate the comments from some of the Members on the opposite Benches.  However, they also have to appreciate that the aim of the compensation agency is to acknowledge the pain, suffering and turmoil of losing a loved one.

No one in this Chamber today is suggesting that the Doherty family are not grieving.  If that is so, how do we as a society acknowledge that pain and suffering?  Do we say, "I am sorry, but you are a second-class victim"?  Do we suggest to them that, in fact, they are not even second-class victims but third-class victims because they should not get any money at all?

Members should refresh themselves; Raymond McCartney made a point about other relevant cases which should be very relevant to this discussion.  We have all experienced pain and suffering, but I can tell you that Kieran Doherty was abducted close to his family home almost three years ago.  He was taken and stripped, his arms and legs were bound, and he was executed in a Provo-style shooting in Derry near the Carmelite monastery in Termonbacca.  Coincidentally, I happened to be in the monastery on the night that Kieran Doherty lost his life.  I can tell you about the sheer shock and horror that was felt by everyone who was at the service that particular night and the continued pain.

We have an independent body that was set up to adjudicate, assess, determine and acknowledge the needs of people who have suffered as a result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  In this case, it has got it right.  I ask my colleagues to be more sympathetic.  I think that there was a knee-jerk reaction and that the claims that massive compensation had been given to a mother in Derry were over-inflated and over-exaggerated.  That was absolute nonsense.  That mother got what the system permitted her to get.

I agree with Tom Elliott; if there is something unfair in the system, or if there is something that is not credible from victim to victim, it should be looked at.  I would say to the Minister — I appreciate that he is here today — that it is his duty to ensure that there is fairness and equity in the system.

I have known the Doherty family for quite a long time.  They have contributed considerably in trying to undermine dissident republicans in Derry by taking part in protests and rallies aimed at undermining what the dissident republicans have done in Derry.  In good faith, I say to Members that the Doherty family is a decent family.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member should bring his remarks to a close.

Mr P Ramsey: Today, we have with us Vincent Coyle, who is a family friend and an uncle of Kieran Doherty.  The family want to acknowledge the contribution that he has made in elevating this case.  The SDLP will vote against the motion and both amendments.

Mr Dickson: One can understand the sentiment behind the motion.  It is, indeed, particularly regrettable that, in this case, sensationalism and inaccuracies in the media have caused the victims of terrorism distress and frustration.

Regrettably, the motion is similarly flawed for a number of reasons.  The first inaccuracy is contained in the opening sentence of the motion, where it says that:

"this Assembly rejects the shift in compensation policy"

that led to this award.

This implies a recent change in policy or procedure, when, in fact, as we know from the debate, the tariff scheme that allows for these payments was introduced in 2002.  Indeed, in 2002, in the House of Lords debate on the introduction of the legislation, Lord Laird and Lord Glentoran welcomed its introduction.

4.45 pm

Mrs Foster: Will the Member give way?

Mr Dickson: Yes.

Mrs Foster: I accept what the Member said about the 2002 legislation and, indeed, the 2006 legislation.  I think that what we are focusing on is the fact that this was turned down by the Department, and the independent panel then decided to award this amount of money, albeit that it was a reduced amount.  We take the view that there has been a shift in policy by the panel.  We are not talking about the legislation per se, but the policy of the panel.  I just wanted to clarify that.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

Mr Dickson: However, I think that the underlying principle to all this is the legislation and the regulation that that brought in, which included the creation of such a panel. 

The motion also invites us to note the inconsistencies with the previous treatment of victims of terrorism, when, again, the reality is that there has been no change in policy or procedure for 11 years.  There is a further inaccuracy in that the motion is premised on the sensationalist reporting of the amount received by the family in this case.  We all know that the sum was substantially lower than that that was originally reported. 

Finally, although Alliance welcomes the call in amendment No 1 for a review of compensation policy, something that I know the Minister has had under way for several months and will no doubt report further to the House on in his comments today, it is regrettable that the amendment calls for the Assembly to endorse a specific outcome before the review has been completed.  That would have the effect of wholly undermining any proper, fair and independent review.  Alliance understands that the decision to award compensation in this case has deeply upset many victims of terrorism.  Unfortunately, the motion and the amendments that are before the House are sadly unfit to properly address this issue for the flawed reasons that I outlined.  Therefore, we are not in a position to support or to not support the motion, and we shall abstain.

Mr Craig: I must admit that it is with some sadness that I have to speak on this issue at all: on compensation and the fact that compensation was paid to the family.  That is not a reflection on the family, and I have no doubt that there was emotional turmoil in that family at the brutal way that their son was dealt with by a terrorist organisation.  Unfortunately, I also have bitter experience of that.  I know what it is like to have a family member dealt with very brutally by a terrorist organisation, and I am not alone in the House in knowing what that is like. 

Although I have sympathy with regard to the pain that is obviously there, what really alarmed me and caused me emotional stress was that this was an individual who, either by his own volition or by the courts, was designated as being a member of a terrorist organisation.  Whatever happened in that terrorist organisation, and whether there was a falling out or whatever that led to this brutal murder, again, the individual was linked to that terrorist organisation.  So, in a roundabout way, compensation was paid to someone who was linked to a terrorist organisation.  You must understand the hurt that that has caused me.

In my case, a family member was serving in the security forces, and, at that stage, was fighting what can only be described as a miserable, terrible war against a terrorist organisation that was determined to destroy not only Northern Ireland as a state but, quite literally, anyone who was prepared to stand up against it in any way, shape or form.  The idea that we compensate those who were determined to destroy us is inconceivable.  I just cannot conceive how we got to the situation where we, as a state, are actually doing that.

I have heard the legal experts give their opinion.  In my mind, the changes that took place in 2002 were wrong.  As a party, we were against it at the time, and we are still against it.  We would like to see others come to the point where they recognise the massive mistake that was made. 

There are victims, and there are those who victimise, and it goes back to very simple basic moral grounds that we were all taught in our youth and which we see worked out in society day after day.  There are those who carried out atrocities against people, and they do not deserve to be compensated for what they did.  As in many cases, I believe that the only compensation that I will get, as someone who has been a victim of that terrorism and whose family has suffered victimisation, will be from God himself.  He will be the one who hands out the real compensation to those people, and they will not like what they get in the end. 

The idea that we have legislation that pays out to members of terrorist organisations is wrong — it is fundamentally wrong. It is causing huge hurt to people like me who have seen family members murdered.  We need to do something.  I plead with the Minister to find some mechanism somewhere to stop this happening.  If that means going back to the 1988 Order, let us do it.  Why should we be paying out to proscribed organisations or to people who were members of those organisations?  It is fundamentally wrong, and it should stop.  I plead with the party over there to get off the fence, do the morally decent thing and support the amendments and the motion.

Mr Lynch: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  I speak against the motion.  I listened to the opposite Benches, and they reflected the understanding that there is a family involved.  I appreciate the fact that they did that.  However, the emotion of any family and the loss of a loved one is no different.  I believe that all families should be treated with fairness and equality.  In this case, the Doherty family are entitled to the compensation awarded for the loss of their son.  In my opinion, bringing the motion to the House to try to deny that award is not only wrong but is against due process, which a number of people have mentioned.  We have the legislation.  It may not be ideal, but we believe, currently, that it is as fair as it can be. 

Therefore, I am not going to repeat many of the things that my colleague Raymond McCartney said, only that I have asked that we vote against the motion.

Mr D McIlveen: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion, and I thank my colleagues for bringing it to the Floor of the Assembly.  The announcement in August this year that the family of Kieran Doherty, a known dissident republican who was murdered by the very organisation that he was a member of, had received a substantial sum of money caused many right-thinking people in our Province — many people who deplored terrorism, and many people who have stood faithfully through many years against terrorism — much concern.  I want to make it clear that I deplore terrorism, and I condemn utterly the end that Mr Doherty received.  As a party, we have always stood against violence of a terrorist nature, and I do so by repeating the fact that we are entirely opposed to terrorism.  For a member of the real IRA to be killed in that manner, regardless of his background or who he was, is something that all right-thinking people would condemn.

However, a panel interpreted the criminal injuries compensation scheme in such a way that any right-thinking person would find it difficult to justify the decision that was made.  Therefore, we urge the Justice Minister to take a serious look at that scheme and to make sure that it is being interpreted in the way that it was set up to be interpreted and not used to further rub salt into the wounds of innocent victims of terrorism, who have suffered greatly throughout our Province. 

I am certainly not a legal expert —

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin: Will the Member give way?

Mr D McIlveen: Yes, I will.

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin: In this instance, although I do not intend to personalise it, we are talking about the mother of a man who was killed.  There is a distinction between the family members.  To describe people as innocent victims but ascribe a different categorisation to the mother of someone who was killed seems to me to be something that right-thinking people should struggle with.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

Mr D McIlveen: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.  I will tell the Member what I struggle with.  I struggle with the fact that the parents of children under the age of 18 who were murdered by heartless republicans in the Omagh bombing were awarded only £7,500 in compensation.  That is a shame, and those who have manipulated this system should hang their heads in shame.  There have been debates in the Chamber about the unequal distribution of who is a victim and who is not.  However, I can assure everybody that I do not think that anybody who is right-thinking could look back at that scenario and say that there is not an injustice here.  The family of someone who was murdered by the illegal organisation that he was a member of received substantial compensation.  We are still waiting for the exact figures, but I think we can be pretty sure that it was more than £7,500, which was the figure paid to the families of under-18 victims of the Omagh bomb.  I do not see —

Mr P Ramsey: Will the member give way?

Mr D McIlveen: Yes.

Mr P Ramsey: I thank the Member for giving way.  I know how sincere he is.  I believe him and concur with him entirely on the figures in respect of the Omagh victims.  I ask the Member a direct question, Mr Deputy Speaker:  is he saying that Mrs Doherty and her family were not entitled to any compensation?

Mr D McIlveen: Yes, I am.

Mr Givan: Will the Member give way?

Mr D McIlveen: Yes.

Mr Givan: I appreciate the Member giving way.  Does the Member agree with me that if you apply the logic of the Member for South Antrim and the Member for Foyle that this is based solely on the fact that a mother lost a son, surely they would then be saying that it was wrong that the award was reduced by half because of Kieran Doherty's criminal convictions.  I have not heard them say that.  However, if you apply the logic of what they said, they would be saying that the award should not have been reduced by half.  It is a matter of where you draw the line.

Mr D McIlveen: I thank the Minister — the Member — for his intervention.  I am promoting him before his time.  All in good time.

Mrs Foster: He is getting worried now. [Laughter.]

Mr D McIlveen: I take the Member's point and agree with it wholeheartedly.  There is a mixed-up logic here, and that is where we have a problem.  That is why we are urging the Minister to act.  Paragraph 2 of the compensation scheme states clearly that the general workings of the scheme are able to be kept under review by the Minister of Justice.  What we had here was a clear flaw and loophole that caused much hurt and suffering in this Province.  Therefore, I ask the Minister of Justice to exercise the duties that he has to make sure that the scheme is reviewed and that this hurt is not caused to innocent victims again.  Sinn Féin has a real opportunity —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Would the Member draw his remarks to a close, please?

Mr D McIlveen: We have an opportunity to show that Sinn Féin has really changed and will not continually try to justify terrorism in every shape or form.  There is an opportunity today for Sinn Féin to really show —

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

Mr D McIlveen: — that it is committed to peace and democracy —

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

Mr D McIlveen: — and I hope that they will take that opportunity.

Ms McCorley: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  Ba mhaith liom labhairt in éadan an rúin.  I would like to speak against the motion.  Tá mé ag labhairt in éadan an dá leasú chomh maith.  I am speaking against the two amendments as well.

5.00 pm

At the heart of this debate is the issue of victims.  As we all know, it is a hugely contested area around which there is no real agreement.  In the absence of agreement on that, the Compensation Agency makes decisions on the eligibility of claimants based on specific criteria.  In this case, which is the subject of today's debate, due process was followed and the outcome was that an award was made.  Sa chás seo, ar ábhar dhíospóireacht an lae inniu é, leanadh leis an phróiseas cheart agus rinneadh damhachtain mar thoradh air sin.

The motion seeks to make a distinction between the suffering and pain of some who have lost loved ones in distressing circumstances and that of others who are somehow deemed to be more worthy.  I do not wish to add to the suffering of the family involved, but I must make it clear that there is no difference in the pain of Kieran Doherty's mother at the loss of her son and that of any other mother in similar circumstances.  If there is an entitlement to compensation because of the circumstances of that death, there is no other question to be asked, except to decide the amount of the award.  That is what happened in this case, and we should not seek to change any of that.

It was noteworthy to observe the overreaction to this award, which, at the end of the day, is a very modest sum.  Anguish and pain have been added to this family through the way that newspapers have sensationalised the amount, plucking figures out of the air, including six-figure sums, which have no basis in reality.

I am not sure either how those who brought the motion to the House define the word, "substantial".  To say that £5,500 is substantial is questionable.  To me, it sounds like a very unsubstantial amount to compensate for the loss of a life.  Therefore, I reject and oppose any attempt to prevent this payment, and I do so on the basis that all victims are entitled to be treated equally.  I also reject any attempt to create a hierarchy of victims.  Tá mé dubh in éadan iarracht ar bith ordlathas na n-íospartach a chruthú.  Cuirim i gcoinne an rúin agus an dá leasú.  I oppose the motion and the two amendments.  Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Eastwood: At times, we can be guilty of forgetting what this is all about.  I remember very clearly the night that Kieran Doherty was shot.  I got a phone call, probably like other Members, and was told that there was a body on the Brae Head Road on the outskirts of Derry and that that person had been murdered.  I remember very clearly sitting with the family — Kieran's mother, grandmother, sister, partner and wider family.

I have been in a lot of houses where people have died tragically, and they are all more or less the same.  The hurt, the pain and the suffering that those families go through is the same.  Kieran Doherty did not make an application for compensation; his family did.  They are the ones left with the hurt, the pain and the burden that they have to carry for the rest of their lives.  They are the people who this debate is about, and we could do a lot better in this House than drag them in here to deal with some of the issues that we have not resolved.

During a time when it was very difficult to stand up to dissident republicans in the city of Derry, Kieran Doherty's family stood up to them.  They stood beside us.  It is much easier for us in public life to stand against people like that, but they stood with us against the terror that dissident republicans were visiting on our city and on our people.  They need to be commended for that.  All of this needs to be remembered when we talk about Kieran Doherty and his family in this House today.  Those kind of stands are not easy to take when your loved one has just been murdered by the very people you are standing against and when you do not have the cover of political or public office to protect you.

The sad part of this debate, and I am nearly sick of saying it, is that if we do not deal with the past and what was completely unfair and completely unjust in the past 40 years of our history — all of it — comprehensively and properly, we will be visiting this kind of debate and this kind of re-traumatisation on families for evermore, amen.

We have been away for two or three months and back for two days.  In the past two days, the whole tenor of debates has concerned issues from the past that still dog us.  That is because we have all collectively failed to deal with them.  What is really unfair is that because we cannot deal with our own issues, we are dragging in here not just the Doherty family but every other family who is still waiting for a proper process to deal with the past.  I hope that we will all be mindful of that fact when we approach the Haass talks.  That is because one of the major, key parts of those talks — and I have hope for the Haass talks — is that we need to face up to dealing with the past and all the issues that surround it.  We have heard from different sources from different parties in the House, particularly the DUP, some of whose Members have, basically, hinted that they do not have a lot of faith that the Haass process can deal with issues of the past.  I hope that they are coming to that process with the same positivity that we hope to bring to it.

The DUP says that the past is too big, dark and difficult to deal with and that the best thing to do is to draw a line under it and move forward.  However, nearly every week, we are in here dealing with another issue of the past.  All the time, we are able to go home, forget about it, come back in the next day and do a day's work.  Families have to watch, night after night on TV, their stories and loved ones being dragged into the political process again.  My generation and those that are coming after mine are stuck dealing with an issue with which we have not dealt.  All the issues that young people want to see us dealing with, such as health, education and the future of this society, are put to one side so that we can all deal with issues that we have not faced up to.  It is just ridiculous that, in the name of victims — although I think that people do it for the right reasons — we re-traumatise them continually because we do not have the guts to face up to the issues that we need to face up to. 

I am disappointed to hear that the Alliance Party today —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member draw his remarks to a close, please?

Mr Eastwood: I will. 

I am disappointed to hear that the Alliance Party, which will not and does not agree with the motion or the amendments, will still not stand up with the rest of us and vote them down.  That is inexplicable to me.  I hope that those Members change their minds.  I also hope that the Ulster Unionist Party —

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

Mr Eastwood: I do not know what that party's position is on victims at this point; it has changed again.

Mr B McCrea: It seems to me that the debate is more significant than was perhaps originally apparent when one looked at the Order Paper.  It seems to me that, fundamental to what is being put forward, is a rowing back from the Belfast Agreement — the Good Friday Agreement.  I have heard DUP Members say that that is exactly what they want and that they did not agree with the changes that were brought forward in the 2002, 2006 or 2009 orders.  It is worth putting the question, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party about their amendment, because the analysis of the timing of that change of legislation is quite significant.  The 1988 Order placed a fairly blanket ban on anyone who was, at any time whatsoever, a member of an unlawful association getting compensation.  That was changed because of the review by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, which was established in October 1998.  I think that that date is significant :  October 1998.  He reported in July 1999.  He mentioned a number of key issues that were subsequently enacted.  He stated:

"The new scheme seeks to recognise that individuals may reform over time and dissociate themselves from their previous way of life.  Hence it will move towards the GB approach.  This means that:

for criminal convictions, including terrorist convictions, the principles of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Order will apply".

He went on to state:

"the current outright ban on compensating those with terrorist links (but no convictions) will be replaced by a provision in the new legislation for dealing with factors relating to character"

and a better way of life.  I have to say that that is what I thought I heard Mr Elliott say he thought was the way forward. 

That legislation was brought in at a particular time and was fundamental to the Belfast Agreement.

There is an issue here of whether you can ever repent of what you have done, and I have heard people speak with conviction on that.  Can you ever say, "I am sorry.  I apologise.  I have moved on", and then be treated the same as every other citizen of the United Kingdom?  If you cannot, you get yourself into a situation of how you move on.  So this is a fundamental challenge. 

It seems that the objectors to this compensation award, which was not massive, can have two main criticisms: they can claim that they have evidence that Mr Doherty had not adequately disassociated himself from his previous way of life; or they believe that, if you have ever been a member of a terrorist organisation, you and your family do not deserve a second chance and the same rights as any other citizen of this country, regardless of whether you have reformed.  That seems to me to be quite a fundamental point.  Some Members talked about morals in their speech, and this is a moral argument. 

It is somewhat difficult when Members table a motion that they then have to amend.  That suggests to me that they have not fully thought through what it is that they want to say.  To me, it seems poor to call on the Minister to do something that he is not legally able to do.  It also seems to present a difficulty if you call on somebody to carry out a review while dictating its outcome.  I have to say that I am surprised that the Alliance Party has taken the decision to abstain.  I would have thought that the Minister might be a little more robust.  He is familiar with this, and it is important.  Maybe he will answer those questions when he comes to address us, and maybe he will reflect on his position. 

All I can say in conclusion is that these are sensitive matters that should be sorted out by the Executive or through party talks.  It is disappointing that a Minister of the Executive feels that she had to table an amendment when she could talk directly to the Minister of Justice.  That says to me that —

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member's time is almost up.

Mr B McCrea: — we have a failure of government.  This is not the right way forward.  People are looking for better.

Mr Ford (The Minister of Justice): I have been listening carefully to a variety of contributions from around the Chamber on the motion and on the subject of compensation policy generally.  In my general response, I hope to deal with most of the points raised. 

Given the media reporting, some of which was entirely inaccurate, I think it important that, first, I set out some details of the current legislative provisions for bereaved families and the level of award permitted by the legislation.  I welcome the opportunity of this debate to set the record straight on that.  I also welcome the opportunity to inform the House of the review that is already under way by the Department of Justice on compensation for victims of crime, and which was under way before the details of this case became public.

Before I go into the detail, I fully recognise that the decision to award compensation to family members of Kieran Doherty has upset many victims of terrorism.  I also acknowledge the fact that many victims and their families feel aggrieved that someone who may have links to a terrorist organisation can also be regarded as a victim and that their family can receive compensation from the state.  Indeed, Jonathan Craig eloquently made a personal point about how many victims feel.  However, I must also recognise that whatever the nature of Kieran Doherty's life, there is no doubt that he was murdered in a brutal fashion.  I recognise that there was very real pain felt by his family, too — a point that Pat Ramsey made on the basis of his direct contact with them.  

Let me deal with the award made to Mr Doherty's mother and grandmother.  It is important to say that the decision to treat him as a victim is entirely within the scope of the legislation for criminal injuries compensation.  The suggestion that either Compensation Services in my Department or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel veered from policy, custom or practice in the case is wrong.  I reassure Members that from the very beginning when these claims were submitted, they were dealt with by Compensation Services in exactly the same way as all similar cases, and that is also true of the way in which the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel operates.

5.15 pm

It is clear that some confusion has arisen around the law in that area and has lead to misunderstandings and inaccurate reporting.  The 2009 criminal injury tariff scheme provides for a bereavement award to be paid in fatal cases and makes provision for the payment of reasonable funeral expenses.  The scheme sets a limit for bereavement awards.  If there is one eligible claimant, the amount is £11,000 maximum, and for two or more eligible claimants, the maximum is £5,500 each, which is nowhere near the figure that was suggested in some media reporting.  The reality is that if anyone, whether MLA or journalist, had approached Compensation Services or the Department of Justice press office, they would have had clarification and been given the figures specified in the maxima in the scheme.  Some journalists did approach the Department and reported the issue accurately, but others clearly did not. 

Critically, like the 2002 scheme, the 2009 scheme does not debar automatically those who are members or supporters of, or have links to, terrorist organisations.  However, it enables unspent criminal convictions and any other information that evidences conduct or character to be taken into account when considering claims for compensation.  In cases of fatality, that provision applies to both the deceased victim and the applicant.

I stress again to Members that the current scheme does not debar claims from victims or their family members on the grounds of terrorist convictions or associations.  As was noted during the debate, unlike its predecessor, the Criminal Injuries (Compensation)(Northern Ireland) Order 1988, the tariff scheme, which came into force in 2002 and was amended most recently in 2009, makes no reference to terrorist connections, past or present, as a reason for reducing or denying a claim.  So, there has been no recent change in policy.

Mr Allister suggested that the 2002 scheme in Northern Ireland might somehow be a direct derivative of the Good Friday Agreement — I think that he called it the Belfast Agreement — but the reality is that the 2002 scheme for Northern Ireland is closely modelled on the 2001 scheme as introduced in England, Wales and Scotland.  There was an attempt by the Government at that time to bring the two schemes broadly into line, although there are some differences, given the different circumstances in Northern Ireland. 

However, a fundamental issue has to be addressed in the area of compensation for those with previous convictions, which was highlighted in Basil McCrea's contribution.  That issue is whether people can be seen to move on and, if so, how that applies, and that is not the only decision that has to be taken by different elements of the Assembly and the Executive on when people have moved on and how things are changing.  The distinction between the two bits of legislation — the 1988 provisions and those from 2002 onwards — seems to have led some people, including some Members, to make the erroneous assumption that the appeals panel applied a different policy or procedure.  It did not: it followed the procedure in its role in reviewing, on appeal, the decision taken by Compensation Services.

Let me again stress again that the Doherty case was considered by the DOJ’s Compensation Services —

Mr Allister: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Ford: — in accordance with the normal policies and procedures that underpin the operation of the scheme.  I will give way.

Mr Allister: Will the Minister accept that one of the matters of public unease that has arisen was fed by substantially false media reports about the amount and was only possible because of a fundamental change in the 2002 Order whereby criminal injuries were removed from the public courts where the press and public could attend, listen to the case and hear the amount awarded?  Given the financially driven desire to remove it from the courts, it was given to a panel to which there is not that public access.  That has fed into the public misinformation that has arisen and also, of course, removed the automatic right of appeal to the High Court that there was in the previous criminal injuries scheme.

Mr Ford: I take Mr Allister's point that its not being handled in a public court may have made some difference to the perception, but there is no doubt that erroneous reporting and talking about vastly inflated sums compared with those that the scheme provides made the most significant difference.

As I said, when the scheme was considered, it was considered in line with normal policies.  Compensation Services accepted the family members' eligibility but denied the claim for compensation on the grounds of the victim's unspent conviction and on intelligence provided by the police linking him to being a member of the Real IRA and suggesting that he was involved in the supply of controlled drugs.

Again, entirely in accordance with the scheme, Mr Doherty's mother and grandmother appealed the decision to the independent Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel.  At the oral hearing on 15 August, the panel confirmed the eligibility of family members and reversed Compensation Services' decision.  The panel awarded both claimants a bereavement award and made a funeral expenses award, and it reduced them all by 50% because of the unspent conviction.

In opening the debate, Mr Givan asked what information changed.  The answer is that no information changed.  The panel made its decision on the basis of the same information that was available to Compensation Services, but, as an independent panel, it was entitled to decide differently.  He also asked about potential action that the Department could take against the appeals panel.  As I understand it, the only possible action that could have been taken against the appeals panel was a judicial review, and a judicial review cannot be taken on the grounds that you do not like the decision.  It has to be taken on the basis of irrationality or unlawful activity by the public body, and that was not the case.  Therefore, there was nothing that could be done to take —

Mr Givan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Ford: Briefly.

Mr Givan: I appreciate the Minister giving way.  Has any analysis been done by the Department of how the initial decision was refused and how the appeals body then took a contrary view?  Did any analysis go into why a different decision, based on the same information, was taken?

Mr Ford: The only answer that I can give is this: because different people made the decision, and on the basis that there is latitude within the scheme, that is how it happened.

The outcome of the independent appeals panel is in accordance with its authority, and as I said on a number of occasions, I have no power to interfere with the panel.  Indeed, the suggestion, as Mr McCartney highlighted earlier, was that I should have been doing something to interfere with the payment.  The payment would have been, I believe, somewhat outside my responsibilities, and outside the code of conduct, and I am glad that the signatories to the motion are seeking to address that.

Mr McCallister: Will the Minister give way briefly?

Mr Ford: Yes.

Mr McCallister: Does the Minister not agree that that is exactly the reason that you build an appeals mechanism into virtually anything: so that someone can look at the process, review it and come to possibly the same decision or indeed change that decision?  That is why in virtually every walk of life we have an appeals process.

Mrs Foster: If the Minister will allow me, if there is a change in the decision, one would have thought that reasons would be put forward as to why there was a change so that, to return to Mr Allister's point, there is at least some transparency in the reason for the change.

Mr Ford: I will let that particular debate between Members continue, because I want to look at developments —

Mr McCartney: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Ford: — with how the compensation scheme works.  Ten seconds.

Mr McCartney: Can you offer to us the technical advice that you gave to the signatories to the motion so that they were able to table an amendment?

Mr Ford: The only point that I made to the signatories to the motion was that calling on me to reverse the decision of an appeals panel against my Department's decision was not exactly the normal operating practice of a Minister.

I do want to look at the wider issues of the review of the compensation scheme, because I think that that may address some of the points currently being made past me by Mr McCallister and Mrs Foster.

Since my appointment as Minister, a lot of effort has been put in on the part of the Department of Justice to dealing with the needs of victims and witnesses.  Members will recall that in June, following work done by the Department in conjunction with the Committee, we launched a five-year strategy for victims and witnesses of crime.  The strategy aims to improve the quality of services and to be responsive to the needs of victims and all those who engage with the justice system. The strategy includes a commitment to review the criminal injuries legislation underpinning the scheme.

As I said at the start, I am pleased to be able to advise Members that that review has already commenced in the Department.  Key to its success will be getting the necessary evidence and engagement, in particular from victims.  A meeting was held in July at which officials met Victim Support Northern Ireland, who brought together a number of victims' groups and various other representatives to look at the current provisions and at the scheme's strengths and the weaknesses, and that further work is continuing in a consultative forum this month to canvass the views of statutory organisations. 

I intend to publish a consultation paper by next summer, and I will, of course, be engaging with all the members of the Justice Committee as we develop that paper.  During the review, there will be opportunities for all who wish to inform and contribute to it to put their views and opinions forward in line with normal practice, and it is my intention to bring forward proposals following that public consultation.  I agree that there are issues that need to be looked at around how the scheme operates, and it is up to individuals to bring forward those views.  What I will not do is specify today what the outcome of that review will be.  All I will do is specify that there will be a review and that evidence will be taken. 

I will relate briefly to the details of the motion and the amendments.  I fully understand the sentiments that are being put forward, but I have outlined where there has been no shift in policy, although there has been a difference of opinion between the Department and the appeals panel.  No substantial award was made to the family of Kieran Doherty.  There is no variation with the previous treatment of victims, though there was a variation in 2002 in the way that victims who also happened to have terrorist convictions were dealt with.  There was no possibility of the Minister intervening.  I believe that the gravest offence that Members referred to came more from the media than from the decision, but I have outlined that I cannot now launch a review of compensation policy because that is under way.  It will, however, be an open-ended review, and we shall wait and see what happens. 

It also highlights the point, made so particularly by Colum Eastwood, that the justice system alone cannot deal with such issues.  Issues of the past need a comprehensive process that meets the needs of society and individual victims of the past.  We simply cannot rely solely on the agencies of the justice system, which is funded for the present and not for the past as well.  I hope that all Members will bear those kinds of views in mind as we look at the work of the Richard Haass talks in the coming weeks — the points that were made by Paul Givan and Colum Eastwood. 

Although I cannot accept the exact wording of the motion as would be amended or the other amendment, I certainly understand the sentiments behind them.  I hope that my response assures Members that I take these matters very seriously.  I am committed to ensuring that victims of violent crime are properly recognised by the state and, as a measure of that recognition, properly compensated.

Mr Hussey: I support my colleague and second the amendment proposed by Tom Elliott. 

I listened intently to the debate, and I will begin by making reference to Mr Ramsey's mention of a mother's tears.  None of us can be anything other than appalled that a mother has to lose a son or a daughter.  I want to say quite clearly that I condemned the murder at the time, and I condemn it today.  Those who carried out that murder are the lowest of the low.  They were terrorists; they were the lowest of the low.  Nobody deserved to die that way. 

Mr Eastwood made reference to the fact that he was with the family at the time.  In 1977, I joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary.  In 1970, my father joined the Ulster Defence Regiment.  I know what it is like to be in the homes of victims of terrorism.  I know what it is like to see a mother sobbing her heart out because her son will not come home because he is lying in a box in pieces, or, in some cases, not lying in a box in pieces because the coffin was filled with sand because the terrorists who took that life did not think anything of him.  That is a reality and I accept that.  My deepest sympathy goes to Mrs Doherty and to the grandmother who lost a son and a grandson.  None of us can do anything but pass on our sympathy. 

Mr McCrea referred to legislation and to those who disassociate themselves from their past.  There are very few republicans who we are aware of who disassociate themselves from their past; in fact, there are many in this House who are very proud of their past.  This young man did not disassociate himself from his past.  It is sad that he died in such a fashion, but he belonged to a terrorist organisation and he, unfortunately, faced the consequences of belonging to that terrorist organisation. 

We then heard about due process.  Due process is a wonderful thing when you acknowledge that you have a British court.  Republicanism does not and did not recognise the British state, therefore, why use British due process?  There is a hypocrisy there that sticks in my throat.

Mr B McCrea: Will the Member give way?

5.30 pm

  

Mr Hussey: No.

Today's debate is an example of the piecemeal approach that we have adopted to dealing with the past.  All too often, it comes at the expense of innocent victims.  Until we find a more appropriate way forward, I am afraid that we will continue to have debates such as today's, which address the matter in an ad hoc manner.  We have various mechanisms, such as the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), the Police Ombudsman's inquiries and coroners' inquests, that seek to investigate and establish the truth about past events.  The uncertainty around the current leadership of the HET, following issues raised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), has yet to be addressed.  The Police Ombudsman's recent difficulties were well broadcast, with the suspension of the historical investigation aspect for a time.

Extensive and lengthy inquiries cannot be the answer, and the Attorney General has admitted that coroners' inquests are not the appropriate way to deal with cases from the past, but both remain on the agenda.  However, that is where we are.  The result is that we are building up a one-sided approach to the past that does not do much to shine a light on those responsible for the vast majority of killings, namely the Provisional IRA.  Those mechanisms do nothing for the thousands of people who were injured as a result of the Troubles.  That is something that we should bear in mind when weighing up their adequacy.  We also have a definition of a victim that is totally unacceptable to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.  I accept that there is no consensus on how to move forward and find a more equitable definition.  Therefore, we are forced to work with a definition that was passed during direct rule in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.  I have worked and continue to work with groups, such as Derg Valley Victims Voice, so I know how offensive the current definition is.

Today, we are looking specifically at the award of compensation to victims.  Reference has been made to Omagh; in some cases, £7,500 was the compensation.  I know of RUC mothers who received nothing other than the funeral costs for their son.  I know of UDR mothers who received nothing but the funeral costs of their son because it was seen by the court that there was no financial loss to the family.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Mr Hussey: I support the amendment put forward by my colleague Tom Elliott.  I look forward to seeing it being progressed through the House.

Mrs Foster: This has been quite a considered debate.  We have had universal sympathy for the Doherty family and for the way in which Mr Doherty met the end of his life in such a violent and futile manner.  None of us wants to cause further distress to any victim.  That is one of the reasons why we found what happened in Castlederg over the summer so offensive; it led to the re-traumatisation of victims in a very real way.  Those of us who had the privilege of meeting those victims from the Derg Valley Victims Voice know the way in which they have been re-traumatised.

However, we want to talk about today's motion, which was introduced by my colleague Paul Givan.  He talked about the context of the decision.  He asked a number of questions of the Minister.  We had some of those questions answered, but I want to revisit some of them now.  Paul asked whether it had been reviewed and what information had changed.  Mr Ford said that no information had changed since the compensation service made the initial decision.  It was then passed to the tribunal, which made a different decision, and the answer that we got back for the change in the decision was that different people made the decision.  That is no way to run a system; what happens cannot depend on who is there.  You have to have certainty in the law.  You have to know what is going to happen.  There has been a shift in policy.  It is disappointing that the Department has not received the reasons why the panel moved to that decision.  There is a real need for transparency as to how you can move from a position at which the Department, looking at the information, decided that there was no award or that the award should be reduced to zero, and then it moves to a panel, which decides that the award should be reduced by only 50%.

There must be clarity, because how else can people apply to a system and know what they will receive at the end?  There is a fundamental issue in the difference between Compensation Services and the panel that made the decision. 

There was inaccurate reporting.  People were saying that the award was £200,000, which was very hurtful to people who heard that.  We heard from Mr Craig, who so eloquently talked about the hurt that was caused to him personally and, indeed, to victims right across Northern Ireland.  I am sure that it also caused hurt to the Doherty family to see that figure being talked about in the media.  The Minister made the point that if the media had asked, they would have been told what the remit was for such an award and, therefore, such inaccurate reporting would not have happened.  There is a lesson for the media in all of this:  they should very much take into account how they deal with victims across Northern Ireland and not be sensational in what they say.  However, that might be a vain hope.

Michael Gallagher, who, of course, lost his son Aidan in the Omagh bombing, has said that the payment sent out the wrong message.  I believe that it sent out the wrong message.  Mr Ramsey was very eloquent and spoke from the heart about the Doherty family.  Kieran had a choice, and he made that choice.  Unfortunately, he made the choice to join an organisation that is not a historical organisation but one that is still involved in terrorism.  Mr McCrea's point that you can have a past but also have a future is right, but you need to acknowledge your past.  This young gentleman did not recant what he had been involved in and, as I understand it, had a criminal conviction for armed robbery.  We need this House to acknowledge that this decision has added insult to injury for innocent victims, and there is a need for a change in the definition of a victim.  That has been talked about in the House.  Indeed, Mr Elliott spoke about the fact that people cannot even accept the definition of a terrorist any more.  Even though you are engaged in terrorist activities, it is denied that you are a terrorist.  Sinn Féin and others need to reflect on that.

Raymond McCartney said that the family followed the legal process.  That is correct, but bad law can be counterproductive.  I believe that this is wrong, and, therefore, that it is counterproductive.  Of course, he accused us of knee-jerk reactions and spent a long time talking about technicalities to avoid talking about the issue in front of us.  On his point about other cases in which terrorists have received compensation, I want to be very clear:  if there are other terrorists who have received compensation, two wrongs do not make a right.

Mr McCartney: Will the Member give way?

Mrs Foster: Yes, I will give way.

Mr McCartney: The point that I am making is that you cannot stand here today and say that there are other cases, and that is why I made the point.

Mrs Foster: I will continue to give way, because I do not understand that.

Mr McCartney: There have been other cases.  You have not raised them, nor have you brought them to public attention.  Why, all of a sudden, do you have a conscience on this particular issue?

Mrs Foster: Because I was not aware of them.  If I had been aware of them, two wrongs still do not make a right. [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order.  All remarks should be made through the Chair.

Mrs Foster: Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.  Unlike others, I will make my remarks through the Chair.  I think that Mr McCrea wanted in.

Mr B McCrea: I thank the Minister for letting me in.  Would she prefer to go back to the 1988 Order, which states that no compensation shall be paid to a person if there is any engagement:

"in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism at any time whatsoever, or is so engaged"?

Should that be the basis of the law that we bring forward?  Would she advocate a change to go back to the 1988 Order?

Mrs Foster: At the time of the change of the 1998 Act, I was concerned that this sort of thing would occur.  If you look at the 2002 and 2006 legislation, you can see that — and this is the issue — you are still allowed to reduce an award to zero if you receive information and you believe that it is not appropriate to give a full award in respect of the individual concerned.  So, although we have heard that the total bar was removed in 1998 under the Trimble/Mallon era and in the 2002 Act, there is still room to deal with the issue under the current legislation.  I think that is a very important point.

Pat Ramsey, as I said, indicated, from his personal relationship with the Doherty family, that this was causing trauma.  I have dealt with the issues in and around that.  My colleague Mr Givan indicated that the award was reduced by 50%, and I think that that is significant.  We believe that it should have been reduced to zero, because the Compensation Agency, as a public authority, cannot endorse terrorist activity.  Much has been made of the fact that an independent tribunal looked at the issue.  That is right; it was an independent tribunal, but an independent tribunal still has to abide by public policy.  I hope that the review will look at the public policy in respect of those people engaged in activities of a terrorist nature.  If we look at the Special Advisers Act, I think we have already accepted the principle that if people are convicted of a serious enough offence, it should have consequences into the future.

Stewart Dickson said that the change in policy from the tribunal panel had been made a long time ago.  I think I have answered that issue in relation to the fact that the policy has obviously changed from the Department to the tribunal.  We need to find the reasons why that is the case. 

Sean Lynch made some comments.  I personally find it very difficult to listen to Mr Lynch talk about due process, when he was engaged in activities in Fermanagh in the 1980s that were a million miles from due process, it has to be said.  So I find it difficult to listen to lectures from that particular individual on due process.

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

Mrs Foster: Mr Eastwood said that some of us were being sceptical about the Haass talks.  Let me be very clear:  Mr Haass is a facilitator.  Everyone in this Chamber has to step up to the mark.  It is not about Richard Haass; it is about the rest of us.  We had better move on and be positive about what is going to happen in the future.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Before I put the Question on amendment No 1, I advise Members that if the amendment is made, the Question on amendment No 2 can still be put.

Question put, That amendment No 1 be made.

The Assembly divided:

Ayes 44; Noes 40.

AYES

 

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Craig and Mr D McIlveen

NOES

 

Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Dallat, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McGlone, Mr McKay, Mrs McKevitt, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Mr Rogers, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Byrne and Ms Ruane.

The following Members voted in both Lobbies and are therefore not counted in the result: Mr Agnew, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put, That amendment No 2 be made.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 27(1A)(b), there is agreement that we can dispense with the three-minute rule and move straight to the Division.

The Assembly divided:

Ayes 45; Noes 40.

AYES

 

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Elliott and Mr Hussey

NOES

 

Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Dallat, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McGlone, Mr McKay, Mrs McKevitt, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Mr Rogers, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Byrne and Ms Ruane.

The following Members voted in both Lobbies and are therefore not counted in the result: Mr Agnew, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put.

The Assembly divided:

Ayes 44; Noes 39.

AYES

 

Mr Allister, Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr Kinahan, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Craig and Mr D McIlveen

NOES

 

Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr Dallat, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Hazzard, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McGlone, Mrs McKevitt, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Mr Rogers, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Byrne and Ms Ruane.

The following Members voted in both Lobbies and are therefore not counted in the result: Mr Agnew, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson

Main Question, as amended, accordingly agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly rejects the shift in compensation policy that led to a substantial award following the death of a Real IRA member at the hands of the same organisation; recognises that the change in policy is a significant break from past practice and inconsistent with previous treatment of victims of terrorism and crime; notes with regret the grave offence which has been caused to many, including and most notably those innocent victims of terrorism, by this award; and calls upon the Minister of Justice to launch a review of compensation policy and reverse this unnecessary, unwanted and offensive policy change.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments while we make a change at the Table.


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

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker.]

Adjournment

Road Infrastructure: Beechfield and Ashfield Estates, Donaghadee

Mr Deputy Speaker: The proposer of the topic for debate will have 15 minutes in which to speak, the Minister will have 10 minutes to respond, and all other Members who are called to speak will have approximately five minutes.

Mr Easton: I am sure that the Minister is surprised that we are having this debate this evening.  However, I am also sure that he will understand that I believe in doing my best in pushing as hard as I can for my constituents so that they can get the best possible services in their community.

As the Minister will remember, he came to visit Beechfield at my request, met the Beechfield Residents Association and listened to their concerns about the state of the roads and paths in the area.  As a follow-up to that meeting, the Minister was good enough to write a letter to me to outline what was going to happen.  I quote from that letter:

"In relation to Beechfield in Donaghadee, staff will be assessing the various roads raised for potential inclusion in a future resurfacing programme, however again this will be subject to funding allocations and other competing priorities.  In addition consideration has also been given to replacing the concrete flagged paths with bitmap whilst addressing ponding issues."

The Minister knows that I really appreciated the visit and the follow-up.  However, there is no definite agreement on the way forward for Beechfield Drive and Ashfield Drive.  That is an area that I am looking for clarification on today.  As the Minister is aware, Beechfield is designated as an area at risk by the Department for Social Development (DSD), and there has been a lot of effort by DSD to put double glazing and new heating systems into Housing Executive properties and to improve the lives of the residents of Beechfield.  The one thing left to do is to fix the road infrastructure.

I remind the Minister that, in the past three years alone, there have been 105 potholes.  That clearly demonstrates the mess of the road infrastructure in Beechfield and Ashfield.  I note that work has started on Northfield Road and Cannyreagh Road, which is very much welcomed.  However, there is no clear direction as yet whether Beechfield Drive and Ashfield Drive will be included in the scheme.  Today, I am hoping that the Minister will agree that it is time to do something with the area to help the residents and bring Beechfield up to the best possible standard that we can, because I do not want the Beechfield residents to have to go through another winter with the roads in the state that they are in.  As the Minister knows, I will not be going away until we get it sorted out, as I am quite a stubborn character when it comes to this sort of thing. 

Minister, I appreciate your efforts so far.  I am looking for clarification on the roads for Beechfield Drive and Ashfield Drive, and the footpaths running between Ashfield and Beechfield.

Mr Cree: I welcome the opportunity to speak here this evening about an issue in my constituency, that is the road structure in Beechfield and Ashfield estates.  I make it clear at the outset, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am not here to defend the Department for Regional Development (DRD) nor, indeed, the Minister.  There are weaknesses with DRD, certainly in the north Down area.  However, I was somewhat surprised to find this matter reaching a debate in the House today, as I have followed with great interest since last January what appears to be almost a weekly communication between the Minister and Mr Easton on the subject of various aspects of Beechfield and Ashfield.

Mr Easton's first communication on 11 January asked the Minister:

"whether there are plans to complete the removal of paving slabs on footpaths that have yet to be resurfaced in the Beechfield Estate, Bangor."

I found the answer rather amusing.  The Member for North Down was informed that:

"Roads Service considers the footways within the Beechfield Estate, Bangor to be in a satisfactory condition.  I understand that none of the footways within the Beechfield Development, which was built within the last 20 years, were constructed with paving slabs.  Roads Service will continue to inspect the roads and footways in the Beechfield Estate, Bangor on a cyclical basis and when defects are identified that warrant intervention, appropriate remedial work will be undertaken in accordance with the timescales established in Roads Service's maintenance standards."

Less than one month later, on 1 February, the Minister was again asked via a question for written answer:

"how he plans to address the crumbling road infrastructure in Beechfield and Ashfield estates".

Mr Easton was reminded by the Minister, and I am sure that he remembers this very well, that:

"footways in the Beechfield estate were replaced some years ago and are in a satisfactory condition, while the entire footway network in the Ashfield estate was replaced last year at a cost of £120k."

The Member was assured at this time that Roads Service:

"will, however, continue to keep the Beechfield and Ashfield estates, Donaghadee under consideration for potential inclusion in a future resurfacing programme."

Just over one month later, on 6 March, Mr Easton again asked the Minister for Regional Development:

"how many potholes have been reported in Beechfield Estate, North Down in the last three years."

In reply, he was advised that:

"Roads Service has received only one report relating to potholes in the Beechfield Estate in Donaghadee during the last three years.

However, "

— and this may be propaganda —

"through Roads Service’s routine cyclic inspection regime, 105 potholes have been noted and repaired during the same period."

There is very little that I can add to what has already been addressed by the process of questions for written answer that I have outlined.  However, I must ask why there is a necessity for a further debate on issues that have already been addressed and resolved over a period of time.

Finally, I ask that the Minister continues to uphold his undertaking of 1 February to consider Beechfield and Ashfield estates for potential inclusion in any future resurfacing programme.  That will go some way to assure constituents in North Down of his good intentions.

Mr Dunne: I welcome the debate, which has been brought this afternoon by my colleague Alex Easton, who is a very active MLA in the area.  I think that it is most important that Roads Service gives North Down equality in funding for road maintenance.  I must also recognise the ongoing work at Northfield Road and Cannyreagh Road.  That is to be welcomed, and we recognise the investment in the area.

I expect that work to be carried out to a satisfactory standard, which is generally the case.  In all honesty, I will say that the work that Roads Service is completing is to a high quality and of a good standard.  That is to the credit of the Department and the Minister.

Investment in Donaghadee is important, as it benefits lives and the social structure of areas such as Beechfield.  The Department for Social Development identified that area as suffering from social deprivation and as an area of risk.  DSD has given £70,000 towards projects and improvements.  So, government recognise the need for regeneration and investment in the area.

Beechfield estate is an area of social housing.  The road structure is in much need of resurfacing.  The roadways throughout the estate, which, I understand, Minister, you visited, are in a very poor standard of repair.  They have been patched and repaired over many years, resulting in what is effectively a patchwork of tarmac on the main roadways.

There is clear evidence of utility companies having obviously opened the road to install gas, electricity and water services.  Poor reinstatement has resulted.  They backfilled openings, and, as a result, there has been shrinkage and the road surface is poor throughout the estate.  There is a risk to the health and safety of the public:  pedestrians, children and cyclists.  The Minister is keen to promote cycling, but I think that, due to the poor road surface, there is a clear risk to cyclists, as well as a risk of vehicle damage.

I visited the area last night and took a number of photographs, and there is clear evidence that the road is substandard and needs to be resurfaced.  As a result, an estate such as that has a poor environment, resulting in a negative impact on the local community.  Poor infrastructure creates a poor environment.  As a result, you get a lack of interest and cohesion in our community and a breakdown in the whole structure.  Roads serve the community and they are very much part of the environment, and I think that it is important that they are maintained to a proper standard.

I join my colleagues in urging the Minister to continue the good work that is going on on Northfield Road and Cannyreagh Road, to take that through the estate and to resurface the roads in the Beechfield and Ashfield area.  Make it a priority that that is done in this financial year, or at least in the next financial year.  It would be a good investment and money well spent, and it is urgently needed in the North Down area.  We recognise the Minister's efforts.  We have had him in North Down a number of times, and we appreciate the work that he has done.

There is more money to be spent, and we are looking forward to the improvements over the Craigantlet route.  I understand that the Minister has that on his desk and is looking into it.  I hope that he does not look into it for much longer, that we see an amended scheme coming forward and that it becomes a priority.  That is because North Down needs and deserves a fair investment in roads from DRD.  We have a high population density and probably a small roads structure, but we need investment.  They are roads that are heavily used by cars and other vehicles, including some bicycles.  We probably need more bicycles, but, in the meantime, we need proper road surfaces.  I very much support the motion.

6.30 pm

Mr Weir: I welcome this Adjournment debate, which my colleague secured.  It would be churlish not to welcome the personal commitment and intervention from the Minister — a desperate attempt to butter him up before he responds.

At times, Donaghadee, and I suspect that we all have such villages or towns in our constituency, can feel a little neglected and a bit like the poor relation.  In many ways, because of Donaghadee's position and its proximity to Bangor and Newtownards, it can feel like the poor relation of its bigger brother and sister.  Consequently, it is important that all parts of our constituencies, particularly Donaghadee, are given a fair shake.

The concept, particularly from a transport point of view, of a concern to ensure that Donaghadee is looked after, goes beyond road issues.  There is an ongoing issue, which I appreciate is with an arm's-length body, with the turning circle at the closed bus station in Donaghadee.  There are ongoing discussions between Translink and Ards Borough Council on that, and hopefully there will be a satisfactory resolution.

As I mentioned, Donaghadee can, rightly or wrongly, feel a little isolated because of its location.  That is particularly true of Beechfield and Ashfield because of their location in the town, which the Minister has visited.  The fact that they are effectively self-contained estates — you do not travel through Beechfield or Ashfield to get to somewhere else — can reinforce a feeling of isolation and neglect.

There has been ongoing correspondence on this issue.  It was mentioned that although only one pothole has been officially reported, even Roads Service — I hope that the Minister's interest goes beyond the answers that come from Roads Service — has identified 105 over the past few years.  Although there is a considerable amount of work to be done sporadically to mend potholes, their number indicates that this is an area ripe for much more substantial resurfacing.

We welcome the commitment mentioned to the ongoing work in Cannyreagh and Northfield.  Part of the purpose of the debate is to try to reassure residents and to seek clarification on where in the programme Beechfield and Ashfield are.  There is a strong case for resurfacing in those areas.  From that point of view, we hope that we can have a win-win situation in which the Minister is able to give reassurance and provide good news.  In that way, the residents of Beechfield and Ashfield could join in and benefit from the ongoing good work on road resurfacing in Donaghadee, and an estate in what, at times, is felt to be a neglected town would not become neglected.  We want that proper level of commitment.

Therefore, I look with anticipation and hope to the Minister and what he can say today.  I hope that he can extend the good work being done and ensure that the citizens of Beechfield and Ashfield are catered for in the roll-out of the programme.

Mr Agnew: I thank the Minister for his attendance and, as already stated, his visit to Beechfield.

I will follow on from where Mr Weir left off.  He made a point about the isolation and, to some extent, neglect sometimes felt in Donaghadee, being a small town between two larger towns.  I think that the feeling is exacerbated in the Ashfield and Beechfield estates, given the ongoing work on the adjacent Northfield and Cannyreagh roads.

Pride in your environment — in fact, pride in your home; the environment is simply where we live — is key to our lives, and we certainly do not want to send a message to those people that their environment and their homes are not valued by leaving them off the list.  I appreciate that Roads Service has priorities and has to allocate its resources accordingly.

In a response to Mr Easton, the Minister highlighted the fact that the road was built in the mid-1960s, with an estimated lifespan of 25 years.  We are well beyond that.  Mr Weir's point that 105 potholes have been identified in recent years shows that the repair of wear and tear is becoming a problem financially and is a significant inconvenience to residents.  Albeit that they are not all at the one location, I am sure that 105 potholes could do considerable damage to vehicles.  It is clear that roads in the two estates are at the end of their lives and need to be resurfaced.

The question was raised as to why we are having an Assembly debate on the topic.  Certainly, as a political representative, one gets frustrated with Roads Service.  Perhaps we do not get sufficient information on how priorities are set.  We are simply told that it is not a priority in this financial year or that resources are stretched.  As public representatives, we need more information from Roads Service as to how those priorities are assessed and resources allocated.  If we are not informed, we cannot inform our constituents.  In the past, I have been given some extra information through questions for written answer.  However, it would be easier if that information were provided to elected representatives as a matter of course when they make enquiries.  Today, we are focused on two specific roads in Donaghadee.  We get significant queries.  Along with the issue of dog waste, certainly one of the highest number of queries that we get in our constituency offices is on road maintenance and repairs.  Better communication from Roads Service would be helpful.

Like Mr Dunne, I credit Mr Easton for securing the debate because it made me visit the area to see the state of the roads for myself.  Resurfacing is certainly needed.  I appreciate that it is probably a question of when rather than if.  I put it to the Minister that, as it is over 40 years since the roads were built with a 25-year lifespan, it should be sooner rather than later.  I thank the Minister for his interest in the matter.

Mr Kennedy (The Minister for Regional Development): I have asked officials to take note of the Hansard report of the debate, so that if I do not pick up on Members' points, I can write to them.

I want to express my pleasure at being part of the debate.  I note and welcome the comments and concerns that have been expressed by Members.  I welcome the opportunity to debate the roads infrastructure at the Beechfield and Ashfield estates in Donaghadee.  Mr Easton, who secured the Adjournment debate, will recall that on 22 May 2013, I met him and residents of the Beechfield and Ashfield estates.  I received a very warm welcome to the estates and enjoyed my visit.  It is important for Ministers to get out on the ground, particularly those who have responsibilities for transport, roads and infrastructural issues, to see concerns at first hand and to meet residents to discuss them.  Of course, during that meeting, the condition of roads in the Beechfield and Ashfield estates and, indeed, the Northfield Road and Cannyreagh Road, which lead to the estates, was discussed.  It was explained to those present that funding for structural maintenance was limited.  As such, Roads Service has to prioritise all schemes that are identified as being priorities in its proposed work programme.

I can assure Mr Agnew that a very fair and comprehensive assessment throughout all our areas is carried out in a very professional manner by roads engineers who understand the pressure on them not only from public representatives but, indeed, from the residents of estates and areas.  I want to pay tribute to my Roads Service officials who, in section offices in all our Roads Service divisions throughout Northern Ireland, carry out that work, because hard choices have to be made.  There are not unlimited sums of money available to us; therefore, prioritisation methodology has to be applied. 

Although it was acknowledged that the road surfaces in the Beechfield and Ashfield estates were showing signs of general wear and tear and that there was evidence of patching from pothole repairs, their condition remains serviceable.  The footways in the Beechfield estate had been resurfaced some years ago and are generally in a satisfactory condition.  The entire footway network in the Ashfield estate was replaced in 2012, which, at the time, was a significant financial investment for a single area, amounting to something like £172,000.  So, I can say with some confidence that Beechfield and Ashfield have not been ignored or neglected, and that is as it should be. 

During the meeting of 22 May, a Roads Service official asked the residents present whether they would prefer to see work carried out on the roads in the estates or on the roads leading to the estates — Northfield and Cannyreagh roads — and which should be addressed first should funding become available.  Both those roads were falling into disrepair with many potholes, and we heard the number of potholes — 105.  The feedback from the residents indicated their preference for Northfield and Cannyreagh roads to be addressed first.  Obviously, they would prefer that everything was addressed, as Members have outlined today.  However, I think that the preference highlighted by the residents at that meeting has been taken into consideration in the selection of the roads to be targeted. 

I am pleased to report that work has recently commenced on Northfield and Cannyreagh roads, as Members have welcomed and indicated.  Carriageway resurfacing and footway reconstruction is substantially completed on Northfield, and preparatory works at Cannyreagh Road are ongoing ahead of resurfacing.  All the works are scheduled to be completed later this month.  The estimated costs for the ongoing works on Northfield and Cannyreagh roads are in the order of £200,000, which again is a considerable investment, and I think that Members will acknowledge that. 

Although I would like to be able to advise Members that Roads Service has proposals to carry out resurfacing of the roads in the Beechfield and Ashfield estates, there are very many similar demands for works on other roads, some busier, which are all in competition for limited funding.  Given the substantial investment in the schemes already under way in the area, and recognising the limited funding available to Roads Service for such works, I am not in a position today to provide a time commitment to carry out the requested works in the Beechfield and Ashfield estates at this time. 

With regard to the issue of funding, I advise Members that initial structural maintenance funding for 2013-14 covering these types of schemes was around £62 million against a required funding need of £129 million Province-wide at 2013 prices.  So, budgets are under pressure.  Roads Service received £25 million of capital funding in the June monitoring round, but again there is still a shortfall.  We will continue to bid.  It is my intention to continue to put bids in the monitoring rounds that remain.  Should my Department be successful in receiving further funding, then, of course, there is a much greater likelihood that this work could be completed.

However, as Members are aware, the later in the year that further funding becomes available, the greater the difficulty is in deploying additional resources in the most targeted and efficient manner.  I would far rather a situation evolved where there is greater clarity and certainty with the structural maintenance budget and it could be carefully and sensibly planned over the entire year, and I will continue to pursue that with the new Minister in the Department of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton.  This is slightly a political point, but I will continue to lobby on behalf of my Department for additional resources for DRD and Roads Service so that projects of this nature can be brought forward and completed.  Mr Easton may want to join me in common cause and ask his colleague, the Finance Minister, to do the same.

6.45 pm

In short, we are all on the same side, and my commitment to the Donaghadee area, the north Down area and to roads all over Northern Ireland cannot be questioned fairly.  I am in the business of seeing improvements to as many roads as possible and the development of new roads and the strategic network.  There are challenges for us, but there are strong arguments that the Executive should make additional resources available to the Department for Regional Development as it seeks to improve the overall infrastructure.

Adjourned at 6.47 pm.

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