Civic Forum

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:45 am on 25th September 2000.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker 10:45 am, 25th September 2000

I have received notice from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that they wish to make a statement on the Civic Forum.

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

I wish to make the following statement on the Civic Forum on behalf of the First Minister and myself.

We are pleased to make this statement on the Civic Forum. The Forum is one more step in the realisation of the vision of the Good Friday Agreement. The Forum is a unique body with a membership comprising a wide breadth of experience. It is in keeping with the new era in which we are now operating that, through the Forum and the other institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, we embrace these progressive and positive developments in inclusive democracy.

On 16 February 1999, the Assembly approved the proposals set out in our report in relation to establishing the consultative Civic Forum. That report proposed that the Forum would be comprised of 60 members and a chairman. The allocation of places to the Civic Forum is as follows: business 7; agriculture/fisheries 3; trade unions 7; voluntary/community 18; churches 5; culture 4; arts and sport 4; victims 2; community relations 2; education 2; First Minister and Deputy First Minister 6.

The first meeting of the Civic Forum will be on Monday 9 October in the BT Studio in the Waterfront Hall. Future meetings will also be held in venues outside Belfast.

In our report to the Assembly, we identified the organisations that would be invited to develop a nomination process for each sector. Those involved in the nomination process were advised that appointments should adhere to the principles applicable to all public appointments and have regard to equality of opportunity, merit, openness and transparency. They should also seek to achieve balance in terms of gender, community background, a geographical spread across Northern Ireland and age. Each of the sectors submitted its procedures to us for approval and has made its nominations in accordance with those procedures. One nomination, from the agriculture/fisheries sector, remains outstanding. We shall advise the Assembly when the membership from that sector is complete.

Of the six members appointed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, I have made three: Brian O’Reilly, regional president of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, which works at the coalface of poverty; Sharon Haughey, a 19-year-old student who came to the public eye in 1998 when, as a 17-year-old, she shared a platform in Armagh with President Clinton, the First Minister and myself; and Hugh Frazer, director of the Combat Poverty Agency.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party 11:00 am, 25th September 2000

I have made the following three nominations: Mr Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party; Mr Richard Monteith, a solicitor whose clients include Portadown District of the Orange Order; and Mrs Betty McClurg, who is the chairperson of the Southern Education and Library Board.

We would like to pay tribute to all the organisations and individuals that worked so hard to help us achieve our goal of establishing the Civic Forum in what proved to be a very short time. We have now ratified their nominations to the Civic Forum, and we have placed a list of its members in the Assembly Library. The list includes the six members appointed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

We have also appointed Mr Chris Gibson as chairperson of the Civic Forum. He is well known for his business experience, including his contribution to the IDB and the CBI. This knowledge, combined with his work in the Irish School of Ecumenics, makes him a uniquely suited person to hold the chair. We know that his wisdom will help to ensure that the Civic Forum achieves its full potential.

The agreement provides that the Civic Forum will act as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural matters. We anticipate that the Assembly will, over time, develop a constructive relationship with the Civic Forum in order to avail of its experience on social, economic and cultural matters.

As the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, we are required to provide the Forum with its administrative support, and, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, we are required — with the approval of the Assembly — to make arrangements for obtaining from the Forum its views on social, economic and cultural matters. We hope shortly to bring forward a proposal for this for approval by the Assembly.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Did the Orange Order make nominations to the Civic Forum? Were any of its nominations taken up? It seems strange to me that, in spite of the fact that there was to be equality in the Civic Forum and a cross-community element, one of the largest — probably the largest — organisation in the Protestant community has been snubbed.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

We were responsible for overlooking — or approving, to be precise — the nomination procedure. [Interruption] We ensured that open and fair procedures were established, and we are satisfied, from the information available, that this has happened. There was a sector focusing on cultural matters, from which a number of nominations came. I will not go in to the details, but I think that when the Member looks at the list in the Library, he will find that there is balance. He knows — at least, there are people sitting close to him who can tell him — that Mr Monteith, whom I appointed, also holds office in the Orange Order.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the setting of a date for the first meeting of the Civic Forum. Do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister agree that one of the first issues that should be debated is the relationship between ill health and poverty? Do they agree that age and gender balance in the membership of the Forum is essential if it is to be truly representative?

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

The Member is absolutely correct, and I agree with her. There is no doubt that the views of the unemployed will be represented by a number of members. While this is not a direct answer to the question, the relationship between unemployment, poverty and ill health is so stark that we will have to look at it in those terms.

The trade unions have nominated one person with experience of working with the unemployed and those suffering ill health in the Derry Unemployed Centre. Also, one of the nominees from the voluntary community sector comes from the Organisation for the Unemployed in the North of Ireland. A number of people on the list are from the voluntary sector and have a direct interest in health matters.

I believe that that area is covered, perhaps not fully, but as fully as possible under a system such as this. The element of initiative that might come from young people in the Forum, and from the involvement of others who deal with poverty on the ground, is also a factor in catering for health.

Photo of Mary Nelis Mary Nelis Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the setting up of the Civic Forum as recommended in the Good Friday Agreement. It is two and a half years since we signed the agreement, so certainly it is welcome. During the deliberations on the Forum, Sinn Féin flagged up a number of concerns. The party was very unhappy with the proposed format of the representative nominating bodies in the remit.

I must say to Mr Trimble that I am very unhappy with his appointments. The statement says

"We anticipate that the Assembly will over time develop a constructive relationship with the Forum, in order to avail of its experience on social, economic and cultural matters."

How do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister propose to make this happen? What mechanisms will be put in place to bring forward the Assembly’s proposals, and what timescale are we talking about?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

First, we achieved the target that we, with the approval of the Assembly, set for ourselves in terms of having the Forum operating within six months of devolution. That is quite a credit, and I must pay tribute to the staff in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister for the work that they have done. It was a very difficult job to deal with a wide range of bodies and to encourage the formation of consortia to make nominations. The persons responsible for carrying it through so successfully deserve our thanks.

In my appointments, my overriding concern was to ensure that there was a balance. Each of the three nominations that I made was specifically to ensure that balance and inclusion did occur. We all want to see — and it is very much a strong theme of the agreement itself — that there is equality and inclusion. Consequently one insured, as far as one could with a limited number appointments, that that was done.

At this stage, I cannot give any detail on the arrangements by which we will obtain the views of the Forum on social, economic and cultural matters, because we have not yet had the chance to consult. It is not appropriate for us to be over-prescriptive at this stage. We will want to meet the chairman of the Forum and consult him. We will want to then consider how best to do this. We will want to consult the Assembly, because the Forum is there to provide advice to the Assembly. It is something which deserves a little consideration. Obviously, arrangements have to be made to enable the Forum to function as quickly as possible, but we need time to reflect on that.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

I thank the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister for announcing the names for the Civic Forum. I am not trying to undermine their respective nominations, but do they not agree that this was a lost opportunity to show that Northern Ireland was moving forward in a more cross-community, pluralist basis, rather than to appoint people from their respective religious communities? Had there been a cross-community aspect to their individual nominations, that would have sent a very powerful message to the community. Can the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister inform me of how many applications were made from the various sectors? I understand that in some sectors there was very little competition. A breakdown of the number of people who applied would be helpful.

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

It should be recognised that the appointments do have a cross-community element. One of the appointments that I have made falls into that category. I agree with the Member on that. I am very pleased that a person of Mr Frazer’s quality and contribution to life in the North of Ireland has accepted the nomination.

I cannot give the exact number of those who made representations. I will write to the Member and inform him. We read them all carefully. Representations were also made verbally. There were substantial representations from various interest groups, sectors within the community and political organisations.

I agree with the Member that the Civic Forum has to be different. It has to have its own mind and it has to bring an independent view to the political process. I hope it will.

Photo of Mr Norman Boyd Mr Norman Boyd NIUP

How did the First Minister arrive at his decision to exclude the Grand Orange Lodge, which has a huge number of members in Ireland, from his nominations while including Gary McMichael of the UDP, particularly at a time when innocent Protestants have to endure untold heartache at the hands of a pro-agreement paramilitary organisation? Will he further tell the House which prominent office Richard Monteith holds in the Grand Orange Lodge, if any?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I want to pick up on a comment made earlier, from a sedentary position, which displayed a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the process. A number of sectors were identified in respect of which applications would be invited. Within that there was a nominating process. It would have been quite inappropriate to give a specific body such as the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland the power to nominate an individual, which seems to be the thought of some Members.

This should not be a surprise to the Member, because the arrangements for the consortia and the sectors were debated in the Chamber and approved by the Assembly. So far as I recall, no point was made in that debate along the lines suggested by the Member. We can examine the record. The decision was made in the Assembly.

As to the particular office that Mr Monteith holds, if the Member asks along the Benches there, he will find someone very well qualified to give him the answer.

Photo of Mr Denis Watson Mr Denis Watson UUAP

Following on from that question, does the First Minister agree with me that the Orange Institution has always played an important part in civic society in Northern Ireland? If so, why did he not recognise this when making his appointments to the Civic Forum and ensure that the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland was officially represented, bearing in mind the assurances that were given by the Prime Minister to the Orange Institution some time ago?

Will he tell the House how many members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland applied for membership of the Civic Forum and were unsuccessful? I can confirm that neither worshipful brother Richard Monteith nor the several other Orangemen who have been appointed will be representing the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

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

I am not as well informed on these matters as the Member who asked the question. I understand that the person who has been appointed is the Member’s deputy in one of the areas of —

Photo of Mr Denis Watson Mr Denis Watson UUAP 11:15 am, 25th September 2000

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is not correct.

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

If that is not the case I will withdraw it and apologise to the Assemblyman. It is the advice that I have been given — [Interruption]

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

As I have already said, I am not as well versed in these matters as many other Assembly Members.

With regard to the nominations, I was surprised that there was not one from the Orange Order. I would have welcomed a recommendation from them or from the Apprentice Boys. I have always held the view — and I expressed it last week — that the Civic Forum is not just something we should feel comfortable with; it is a body that should bring in the total width of views in the North of Ireland. I ask the Assembly to accept that, and if I am wrong I will make the matter right very quickly.

Photo of Prof Monica McWilliams Prof Monica McWilliams NIWC

As a representative of the party that first proposed a Civic Forum, I am heartened to hear that the Worshipful Brothers, and Worshipful Sisters, from the Orange Order were looking for places on it, especially when so much criticism of it came from the DUP in the first instance.

Is it intended that the Civic Forum should set its own agenda and priorities, rather than those matters being decided here? We did not have clarification on the arrangements, and I understand that, but that is my understanding of how it is to operate.

I commend the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister for establishing the Forum. However, it is a pity that those who have been critical of it did not take the opportunity to co-operate. I am sure that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister would agree that many of the sectors spent over a year, through self-nomination, selection and elections, trying to fulfil the participative nature of the Forum. Will those critics also take the opportunity to congratulate those who established the Forum?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I agree. It is remarkable to see the interest and desire shown in certain quarters in being part of the Civic Forum. This indicates that those evincing that desire wholly approve of the Civic Forum. They are clearly in favour of it, just as in the case of the other institutions of the agreement. One wonders why they describe themselves as anti-agreement when they are clearly endorsing it by their behaviour.

Under the legislation, there is a clear responsibility on us to make arrangements for obtaining the Forum’s views on a number of matters. Those arrangements could take a several forms — they do not have to be exhaustive. It does not necessarily follow that the arrangements made to enable the Assembly to take the views of the Forum cover all that the Forum does. However, the Forum must operate in social, economic and cultural matters. As I have already said, this is a matter where some reflection and consultation would be appropriate. Until now, our objective was to establish the Forum and get the nominations. We had a very tight timetable and we are delighted to have achieved it. We are going to try and achieve other things with regard to the Forum just as efficiently.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

Considering the current level of input that all relevant groups already have, do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister agree that the Civic Forum is another level of unnecessary bureaucracy? Is it coincidental that the Civic Forum includes people who failed to gain an electoral mandate for the Assembly?

Will the Minister tell us the cost of each individual’s wages and the overall cost of the Civil Forum? This is especially relevant as more money is required for health, education, roads and meeting the costs that organisations need to look after constituents.

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

The Civic Forum is not part of bureaucracy. The key element is that it is part of the imaginative independent thinking that exists in the North of Ireland right across the board. I hope that Members will look upon it as that. The administrative costs associated with the Civic Forum will not be clear until the Forum is operational. A notional figure of £300,000 has been allocated for the current financial year; it may be more or it may be less. It will be reviewed in the light of experience. The budget for the Forum will cover staff costs, office running costs, members’ expenses, research and the cost of hosting plenary and other meetings.

The post of chairman of the Civic Forum was widely advertised to attract the best possible field of candidates. The cost of advertising was some £10,000. Eight of the nominating sectors placed advertisements in local newspapers to offer the widest possible opportunity to all members of the community in Northern Ireland to apply for the Forum. Those advertising costs amounted to some £40,000.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I note with interest the silence from the Ulster Unionist Back Benches. Perhaps those Members had a rough night on Thursday.

Does the First Minister agree —[Interruption] He cannot take it. Does he agree that never has so much money been spent — [Interruption]

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Does the First Minister agree that never has so much money been spent in appointing so many lapdogs in the history of Northern Ireland? Can he confirm that the original estimate for this whole process was £10,000 to £15,000, and that the nomination process for the Civic Forum has increased that by a factor of five or six? This makes the budgeting for the millennium dome look extremely proper. Can he confirm the total cost of the entire nomination process, and can he confirm that, as was shown on Thursday night, this Forum is not representative of the people of Northern Ireland because the majority of people in the Province are opposed to the whole sordid process?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

On the Assembly Member’s first point, he should consider the good manners displayed by all parties here, bar his own.That might lead him to reflect on his own behaviour or his party’s behaviour. I know that outside this Chamber the Member is not as rude as the people who sit beside him.

We very much regret that during the session we had with the Committee of the Centre last week, I said on advice from officials, that the cost of the nominating process was estimated at £10,000 to £15,000. That answer was incorrect, and we have acknowledged that in writing to the Committee Chairman, as the Member knows. The Deputy First Minister has, in his answer, given more accurate information on the costs. It is obviously undesirable that inaccurate information was given. When we discovered that that was the case, we moved, as we have done this morning, to correct that.

Photo of Paul Berry Paul Berry DUP

As one who works closely with the victims, and especially people who have suffered so much trauma and so many problems over this past 30 years, I ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister why the victims are so grossly under-represented in the Civic Forum. When one thinks of the thousands of people in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years who have been affected by the troubles, it is a shame that there are only two victims’ representatives.

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

The Member will be as aware as I am that the Assembly decided the numbers that each consortium would select. That was a collective decision by the Assembly of which we are all part. The report agreed by the Assembly provided that organisations working with victims should be invited to assist in ensuring that the concerns of victims are represented on the Civic Forum through two nominations. A consortium was established to develop a selection process for the nominations. It represented a wide cross-section of those working with victims, including groups from outside Belfast, groups recently established and those in existence since the early part of the troubles of the past 30 years.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche NIUP

I would like the First Minister to return to a question raised by my Colleague and deal with the part concerning Gary McMichael. The appointment of McMichael is completely incomprehensible. McMichael represents no economic or cultural body. Not only has he no electoral mandate but his entire party was wiped out in the 1998 elections. The only significant claim to political status that this man has is that he gives political analysis — to use his own term — to a so-called loyalist terror organisation. Anyone who pays a blind bit of attention to anything that he says must be even more politically gullible than he is. However, on a more serious point, in appointing that man, the First Minister has obscured the issue of decommissioning.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. The Member was making a point. This is an opportunity to ask questions.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche NIUP

I am asking the First Minister to explain clearly to the Assembly why he appointed Gary McMichael.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

As I indicated earlier, the clear intention was to be inclusive. Mr McMichael is the leader of a political party. It is true that his party did not win any seats in the Assembly, but it does hold a number of seats at local government level. I considered it desirable, in the context of inclusion, to give a measure of representation in the Forum to that party. He is not the only councillor in the Forum.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

I note the First Minister’s last reply when he said that he intended that the list would be inclusive. Obviously, that does not include the Orange Order, and it does not include many of the people who voted against the agreement. As we look through the list, we can see that it is made up of the membership of the Ulster Unionist Party, political failures, IRA terrorists, and yes-men. Does the First Minister agree that this kind of cronyism is of a kind that would make even Tony Blair blush? What credibility can an organisation made up of cronies, failures and IRA bomb-makers possibly have when it comes to public pronouncements?

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

I thank the Member for the question. I have heard numerous descriptions —failures, lapdogs, yes-men and cronies. I am not sure if we are reading the same list, for when I look at it I see the names of a large number of very independent- minded and strong-willed people. I think that that is good for a body such as the Civic Forum, and I repeat that I welcome the type of inclusion that has taken place. It is unfair to describe people who have made a contribution — maybe we do not like their contribution — to the life of this country as cronies, failures, lapdogs and yes-men.

I make one last point. We should never be comfortable with the Civic Forum. It should be there as an independent place where there is independent thought. Of course, there are those within the political process who are more afraid of independent thought than they are of anything else.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP 11:30 am, 25th September 2000

How can the First and Deputy First Ministers justify these appointees to the crony Forum? The number of trade union representatives is triple the number of representatives of the victims and double the number of representatives from the agricultural community; the voluntary sector has almost double the representation of the combined interests of the business and agricultural sectors; and the number of First and Deputy First Ministers’ appointees is triple the number of those representing victims. How do they justify victims’ having to sit with people like Donncha MacNiallais, who actually created victims in Northern Ireland? What recourse, if any, have victims, the Orange Order, and the other snubbed groups and individuals to appeal those decisions?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I remind the Member that the arrangements for the distribution of members were approved in the Assembly on 16 February 1999 — quite some time ago. The hon Member is a little bit late in making his complaints about these matters.

There is, however, an opportunity for us to review the operation of the arrangements. In the report that the Deputy First Minister and I placed before the Assembly for the debate on 16 February 1999 we indicated that we would review the operation of the arrangements 12 months after the appointment of the Civic Forum. That we will do.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

I would like to make the point that there are 22 —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. I must draw to the Member’s attention that this is an opportunity not to make a point but to put a question.

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

My question concerns the fact that only 22 of the 59 appointees are women. In the spirit of equality, will the First and Deputy First Ministers agree that there should be a 50:50 gender balance in the Civic Forum? Why did they not use their nominations to correct that imbalance?

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

I take the Member’s point. However, she should also recognise that, in our nominations, the First Minister and myself did try to redress that imbalance. I should also point out that decisions of the consortia that chose the Members were greatly influenced by the matter that she raises. We did try to help in our nominations. Maybe it should have been more, maybe next time it will be, but there was a wide field to cover, and we had to make sure that young people, those involved with poverty, those involved with health, those involved with all the different areas were represented. I think, on balance, when we look again at the final list we will conclude that it may not be perfect, but it is as near as possible under the present system.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I have received notice from the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Sir Reg Empey, that he wishes to make a statement on Harland & Wolff. [Interruption]

The Deputy First Minister on a point of order.

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

It is not a point of order, but perhaps you would indulge me for a second. I am now aware that I gave inaccurate information in response to the question from Mr Watson. I regret it very much. He is someone I have dealt with in very difficult times and in a very honest way, so I apologise to him personally. I also apologise to the Assembly, and I ask that those remarks be withdrawn. I must take more of an interest in those matters so that I will not give faulty information again.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

The Assembly will be grateful that the Minister has, with such alacrity, moved to correct the matter on the Floor of the House.