Civic Forum

Office of first minister and deputy first minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 18th September 2000.

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Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance 2:45 pm, 18th September 2000

3. asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister if a statement on progress towards establishing the Civic Forum will be made.

(AQO 25/00)

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

We remain confident that the target date for establishing the Civic Forum in early October will be met. A number of matters remain to be resolved, but the First Minister and I hope to be in a position to make a statement on 25 September setting out the latest state of play regarding the first meeting, the venue for the first meeting, the chairmanship and the nominations for the Civic Forum.

Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance

Can the Deputy First Minister advise the House what particular problems have been encountered in the establishment of the Forum? Can we look forward to its establishment and see that fairness and equality in the appointments have been its hallmark?

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am not in a position to specify the problems the various organisations may have had to face. That is a matter for them. It is not a matter we would be privy to. I am confident that the standards we notified to the consortia in terms of selection criteria have been adhered to.

I look forward to joining the First Minister in reporting to the Assembly soon on the various factors I mentioned, including personnel. There have been representations from various sectors on their specific interests. These sectors have included the unemployed, the homeless, those dealing with poverty, young people, students, members of minority religions, those dealing with sexual orientation and health professionals. We asked all the consortia to deal with each matter raised in the representations and with other issues. I hope we will find that this has happened when we make the final assessment.

Photo of George Savage George Savage UUP

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that the agriculture industry is going to be inadequately represented on the Civic Forum? Will consideration be given to increasing membership from the rural community?

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I can think of no other sector that needs to be represented as adequately as the agriculture sector. We should wait and see what happens with all the nominations. The Assembly resolved to allocate three places to agriculture and fisheries representatives. Those figures will be re-examined in 12 months’ time when we review all the workings of the Forum. I am not suggesting that we, collectively, got it exactly right when we adopted the motion moved by the First Minister and myself. We got it fairly right, but if time shows that there is a deficiency, we will correct it.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Will Members refrain from asking questions to the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister. Questions should be directed to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and not to one or other of them.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Can the First and Deputy First Ministers confirm that a selection list for the 18 community representatives has already been drawn up, that that list is biased against the Unionist community, and that representatives of the gay and lesbian community have been given equal status to those representing older people, youth and women? Can they also confirm that the Irish language has been included on this list while Ulster-Scots and the Unionist and Orange culture have been given no such position? That situation can only be remedied when Mr Trimble nominates his people.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

The selection for the consortia was an onerous task, and we did not turn it into a trawl of the various prejudices, as the Member seems to be doing. That would have created a series of grievances and prejudices rather than the new, different dynamic in the political life of Northern Ireland that we should have. The Assembly agreed the criteria, the numbers and how the Civic Forum would proceed. We are trying to implement this now, and I would refrain from any further comment about nominations until we have the definitive list in front of us, which will be very soon.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the First and the Deputy First Ministers ensure that young people, such a vital sector in our society, and the disadvantaged, who are normally voiceless, are adequately represented in the Civic Forum?

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

The First Minister and I agree that if the Civic Forum functions properly it will be a place where people whose voices are not normally able to be heard will be heard loudly and to constructive effect. It is essential that we have young people in that Forum.

It is essential that we get their dimension on the new future that we are trying to build, and they have more of a stake in the new future than we have. In terms of the disadvantaged — the unemployed, the homeless and those dealing with poverty — it is essential that they are present. Those voices have to be heard, and we have to ensure that they are able to make their views known.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Members have made rather heavy weather of the questions. We have only reached number three. We should move on to the next question.