‘All Truth Is Bitter’ (Report)

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 5th February 2001.

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Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 5th February 2001

6. asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to comment on the report ‘All Truth Is Bitter’ published by Victim Support Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO).

(AQO 671/00)

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

I commend the Member on the breadth and comprehensive nature of his reading patterns. The report was published following a visit to Northern Ireland by Dr Alex Boraine, vice-chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

We understand that Dr Boraine has had further involvement with stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland and that a project entitled ‘Healing Through Remembering’ has been developed. We look forward to receiving a report on the project in due course.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his reply and accept his compliment. However, does he agree that the main recommendation of the report ‘All Truth Is Bitter’ requires further discussions in terms of truth and reconciliation? Can he indicate what provision by way resources and structure is being made to facilitate such discussions? Was there any movement to do that in the Assembly’s December financial review?

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

There are two parts to the question. The first is what we can learn from the South African experience in terms of the publication by Dr Alex Boraine. It is too early to be definitive in relation to that, but most Members would agree that the opportunity is needed for the vast number of people who have suffered to be able to communicate that experience. That would be a first step.

Detailed proposals for expenditure are being finalised. It is important that the modest allocation of £320,000 — £200,000 from the October monitoring round and £120,000 from the December round — be used as efficiently and effectively as possible. Funding is most likely to be focused on project initiatives that can reach as many victims as possible. Potential areas include initiatives in the health field, capacity building, assisting the four trauma advisory panels, the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund and research on the needs of victims. Later this year, approximately £6·67 million will be available under a specific victims’ measure in the European Peace II programme, and I trust that all groups will take the opportunity of trying to obtain funding from that source.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

Does the Deputy First Minister believe that the programme to support genuine victims will be affected by the noises made by the First Minister when he seeks to inform his Colleagues that he may have to seek a fundamental review of the Assembly to a system in the Westminster election hopes?

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

I think I thank the Member for that question. I am not sure of its import, but its general thrust, I think, was to make the First Minister appear as the victim while I am answering questions about victims. The issue of victims affects the entire community.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

Would the support be affected?

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

It is a very important issue. I have explained the thinking behind the reaction to the experience in South Africa and the funding arrangements. It is not an issue that should be used as a stick with which to beat anybody.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

The time for questions to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is up.

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

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. With your permission, I wish, on behalf of the First Minister and myself, to refer to the debate on a children’s commissioner for Northern Ireland, which took place last Tuesday. As Members will be aware, the First Minister and I were in Paris last Tuesday on official business. Owing to a breakdown in communications at official level in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, junior Ministers were not present to respond to Members at the conclusion of the debate.

We understand the concern expressed by a number of the Members who took part in that debate that Ministers from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister were not available to respond to the informed and useful contributions. We apologise for that. The First Minister and I assure the House that steps have been taken to ensure that such a situation will not recur.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

On behalf of the House, I acknowledge the initiative of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in declaring that this will not happen again.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am concerned that the Deputy First Minister can make a ministerial statement at Question Time. As it was a ministerial statement, notice should have been given. I do not accept that the Department, with its overloaded personnel, could not have been represented in the House to address an important matter about the children of Northern Ireland, and I do not think that you should be congratulating the Deputy First Minister and thanking him for doing something that should never have been necessary.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that I raised that issue during the debate on the children’s commissioner. The Deputy First Minister has not explained why no junior Minister saw fit to come to the Chamber and at least listen to the comments of the Members, even though there were two within the precincts of the House. Mr Haughey came to the Assembly, and spoke for about a minute, excused himself and then left. He did not remain and listen to Members’ comments on this vital issue.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. Would that everything could run smoothly, properly and in a seemly way. On this occasion, it is clear that something inappropriate happened. The Deputy First Minister, on behalf of himself, the First Minister and the junior Ministers, tendered an apology to the House and said that procedures would be put into place to ensure that it would not happen again. It is much better that that should have happened than not.

We now find ourselves substantially late for the next round of questions that Members have taken the trouble to put down, and therefore we should move on. The Minister has made an apology, and it would be churlish to refuse it. The Minister is aware of the feeling of the House, and if he wishes to make a further statement he will take the necessary action. We are now some 10 minutes late. I fully accept that that is not the fault of the House, but we should move on.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the individual who raised this matter, I should point out that I asked the Business Committee to look at the situation where Executive Ministers had difficulty attending sittings of the Assembly at any time.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. What the Member wishes the Business Committee to look at is a matter for the Business Committee, not for the Floor of the House, and a matter for him to commune with his Whips about. However, if he speaks with them he is likely to find that they do raise these matters with their Colleagues on the Business Committee. It is not appropriate for us to continue on this matter. It has been raised, it is being dealt with, and we must now proceed.

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Is it a point of order or merely a continuation of the discussion that is beginning to develop?

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

It is a point of order. As the proposer of the motion last week, I accept the apology and hope that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will read Hansard and take on board the comments reported therein.