I have already publicly stated my support for the housing strategy for north Belfast, which is a programme designed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to meet a particular need in that part of the city. The Housing Executive has a duty to tackle north Belfast’s chronic housing need aggressively, to stamp out bad housing and cut down on urgent housing need. I am determined that that will be done with energy and creativity. This is an operational matter, however, and, that being the case, the timing and allocation of funding will be the responsibility of the Housing Executive.
I want to express disappointment with the Minister’s reply. He has indicated that he supports the Housing Executive’s north Belfast strategy. However, he fails to produce the means whereby this strategy can be fully implemented. As he knows well, north Belfast has the worst housing in all of Belfast — indeed, throughout Northern Ireland. The Minister’s reply is therefore somewhat laissez-faire in its thrust and lacking in the commitment that one would expect from a Minister.
I share the Member’s concern and his disappointment, but I want to re-emphasise that a bid of £4·1 million was submitted. Unfortunately, the Executive does not share the concerns of Mr Maginness and myself. Its members do not give this the same priority as we do. I regret that, and I have no doubt that he regrets it.
It would be better, however, if he were to ride in behind my efforts rather than trying to throw roadblocks in the way. I do not want to misrepresent him — normally he is a very genuine individual — but Mr Maginness should accept that the best effort was made. Unfortunately, the Executive did not interpret it as such.
I will value the Member’s support in the future in making any representations that he can. If he wants to come and speak to me on this issue, I am quite ready and willing to listen.
Mr Hutchinson is a member of the Committee for Social Development. He knows the number of times I have attended Committee meetings, and he is aware that I have discussed this matter with him and his Colleagues. He can gauge whether I am sincere. I cannot force him to make up his mind on that. However, I remind him that there are a number of Members on that Committee and that they have ample opportunity to make representations to me through the Committee. I can assure him, his Colleagues and the House that I want to see the north Belfast strategy go forth, irrespective of what Members may think of my political views.