Debate resumed on amendment to motion:
That this Assembly endorses the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive. — [The First and Deputy First Ministers]
Which amendment was:
"declines to approve the Northern Ireland Executive Programme for Government because it does not properly address the deep divisions and inequalities in this society and therefore does not deliver the new beginning envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement". — [Mr Neeson]
Mr Speaker, first of all, I wish the Business Committee and yourself a pleasant and constructive visit to Washington.
Yesterday the First Minister introduced the motion to endorse the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive and outlined its significance in relation to the new politics of the agreement. He also spoke about the valuable interaction between the Executive and the Assembly and its Committees in debating and scrutinising the programme. I want to join with him in thanking the Assembly for the very positive and constructive way in which it undertook this task and is continuing to do so in this debate.
I also add my thanks to the Civic Forum and to more than 150 outside bodies and individuals who provided comment during that consultation on the draft programme.
Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the talented and committed officials who have helped us to construct a Programme for Government from scratch, at the same time as we put our first Budget together. As a result, we now have a stronger programme, capable of making a real difference to all the people in Northern Ireland.
It will be a significant moment when the Assembly endorses the Programme for Government and takes co-ownership and co-responsibility for it. Here lies the importance of the public service agreements which are now annexed to the main programme for they are the means by which we will give a detailed account of ourselves, the means to allow the Assembly effective monitoring of the implementation of the programme.
The poet W B Yeats wrote
"In dreams begins responsibility".
The Programme for Government sets out the policies and objectives we have identified as our main priorities for the years ahead. It does so in a way links vision to practicality, setting out not just that of what we aspire to but the steps we need to take to get there.
Our vision is of a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society, firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust, and the protection and vindication of human rights for all. It is a vision also based on partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands. To achieve that vision requires a commitment to the prosaic but necessary pursuit of effectiveness, efficiency and economy in each Department.
After the long years of direct rule there is a new democratic energy in the Executive and the Assembly. We will take that energy and commitment into our work with individuals, communities and organisations across Northern Ireland and into discussions with our partners, be they in Dublin, London, Brussels or Washington.
The Programme for Government recognises as a starting point that, in working together to create a new future, we have to deal with the deep and painful divisions in our society. After decades of division and 30 years of conflict there is a high level of distrust between the two main traditions within our community. We must continue to develop a capacity for compromise and respect, seeking to resolve conflict and build trust. This is not an easy or short-term task, and in undertaking it, we have to give particular attention to developing a cross-departmental strategy to promote community relations.
We have decided that growing as a community should be our first priority and in the first chapter of the Programme for Government we have mapped out a wide-ranging approach, linking our policies on equality and human rights, victims, poverty, communities and housing, and community relations. There are no easy, or facile answers. We have created a wide vision. We have demonstrated the link between different programmes and policies. Members will have noted that this chapter has been carefully revised in the light of comments and further work. For example, it incorporates the proposal to establish a children’s commissioner and introduces measures to ensure proper take-up of social security benefits. It adds new targets for the homeless and for grants to improve housing conditions and to promote conversion to more efficient heating.
I noted yesterday that the Alliance party seemed to disregard the fact that we have taken the theme of growing together as our starting point and that we have substantially strengthened this chapter. With regard to the Alliance Party’s, recent amendment, I take a fairly sanguine view of it. In an Assembly we need parties to push us, to put us to the test, and as on this occasion, to give an airing to views that they may feel have been omitted.
I took careful note of Mr Neeson’s remarks in the debate last night and appreciate the sincerity of his commitment to promoting better community relations. I also noted the seven priorities that he put to the Assembly. All of those are inherent in the Programme for Government.
I think you will find that those points are catered for, if not specifically, then generally throughout the Programme for Government. I will address one of the points he made about hate and racism, and he cited recent events at Windsor Park. I agree with him and I know everybody in this Assembly agrees with him. I want to go on record as saying that the type of behaviour that was directed at Neil Lennon is simply intolerable. I know that I speak for the entire Assembly.
Many years ago I went to Windsor Park to see Peter McParland, who happened to be from where I live, play on the left wing for Northern Ireland. It was my first and last visit to Windsor Park. I stood on Spion Kop, and I would ask simply — what has changed? Peter McParland received exactly the same type of sectarian abuse as Neil Lennon.
I thank the Member for his intervention. I simply wanted to put on the record again that all of the Assembly deplores the racial abuse of anybody within our society.
Mr Neeson also called for proofing that promotes sharing over separation. I point out to him page 195 of the Programme for Government, which deals with the obligations under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. That includes not only obligations of equality of opportunity but also the requirement to have a regard for the desirability of better community relations.
On that basis I would ask the Alliance Party to look at their seven points again and to go back to the Programme for Government and measure them against what is included there. The Programme for Government makes clear our commitment to reducing the significant levels of deprivation, long-term unemployment and benefit dependency that exist here. We recognise the inequalities that exist in terms of poverty, health, housing, education and economic opportunity and we are determined to tackle them. We have listened carefully to responses to the Programme for Government and have made a number of improvements on equality matters. These include — and I specify a few — making further progress on implementing the disability rights task force report in order to ensure comprehensive civil rights for disabled people; committing ourselves to publishing a strategic response to the Promoting Social Inclusion report on travellers and in particular recognising the need to provide appropriate accommodation; working with the Equality Commission on community differentials and long-term unemployment; clarifying that the Single Equality Bill will, as far as practicable, harmonise our equality laws and reflect best practise, and ensuring that New TSN action plans and departmental Equality Schemes will be implemented by ensuring that they are incorporated as integral parts of the public service agreements.
The Programme for Government now sets out more than 250 specific actions that will help us achieve our vision. The Assembly and the public wanted to see these actions more tightly specified, and we have responded by making clear what is to be achieved and by when. We have also listened and responded to many other comments. We have set out, in considerably more detail than before, the steps we will take to tackle poverty and social disadvantage.
Throughout the programme, we have highlighted the recurrent theme of commitment to sustainable development. We have responded to calls for a stronger focus on children and have made a public commitment to introduce a comprehensive strategy to address their needs.
We have also listened to other requests. For example, the draft Programme for Government included a commitment to tackle social security fraud, but we were reminded during the consultation that many people — especially older people — do not take up the benefits to which they are entitled. We have therefore included a commitment to carry out an assessment of the uptake of benefits, highlight potential problem areas and produce a strategy to encourage uptake. However, a strategy is not enough; we must target people who, for whatever reason, have not taken up their benefits, so that the elderly, in particular, can take advantage of what is available to them.
We have also responded to the concerns of the rural community, by making specific commitments to meet the requirements for EU recognition of our low incidence of BSE and to consider the feasibility of new entrant and retirement schemes for farmers. However, we must now give absolute priority to the difficulties facing not just farmers and the agrifood industry, but Northern Ireland as a whole, in the light of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. As Members know, the Executive have set up a special interdepartmental committee to co-ordinate the response by Departments. The Executive will hold a series of emergency meetings until such times as the situation has been brought under control. We will also take account of the foot-and-mouth threat when we examine the budgetary situation later in the month.
Above all, however, we must ensure that there is no wide gap in Northern Ireland for illicit trading in livestock. We must get to the heart of that problem in such a way that we protect the farming community, especially from the type of activity that has contributed substantially to the introduction of foot-and-mouth to Northern Ireland. We must be utterly ruthless about that; there is no option. We must ensure that all the regulations and all the primary legislation are sufficient to give that protection.
Investing in education and skills is another priority. We have responded to calls to strengthen this section and have set out further actions, including regional targets for literacy and numeracy and for examination performance. We have also made specific commitments to improve school buildings. We have responded to calls for the removal of some of the barriers that prevent young people from staying on in education and training. We will make the curriculum more relevant and enjoyable for those over 16. We will abolish further education fees for full-time students aged 19 and over on vocational courses. In addition, we will promote greater parity between all vocational, occupational and academic qualifications.
At this stage, I will speak personally and make again the plea that the vocational element of our secondary school system be developed in such a way that the young people coming out of it — 75% of our school population — are given the vocational training that will equip them for life. There are remarkable opportunities in agriculture; many young people go straight from secondary school to run, or help run, farms. Where in our curriculum is the vocational training for them? With regard to another personal hobby horse, I would like to know where in our education system is the training that will help develop horticulture as part of our agriculture industry.
Given the potential that we have in this small area of land, it is a crying shame that 75% of our young people, many of whom come from farming communities, do not get that type of intensive vocational training, especially in horticulture, which would be of great benefit to us.
Back to the script: one of the key themes of the programme is inclusivity. Our desire to make a difference, as an Executive and an Assembly, applies universally. We want to see an improved quality of life and greater equality of opportunity for all. We know from experience that prejudice is not confined to religious sectarianism, and that ethnic and other minority groups are often victims of intolerance. That is why the Programme for Government commits us to working to reduce all forms of intolerance and to building relations within, and between, communities.
We believe that this Programme for Government demonstrates that we are a listening Executive, but we are also a prudent Executive. The Programme for Government may be visionary, but it must also be practical. All of the actions it contains have been costed. They have also been provided for in the Budget that the Assembly approved in December and in the Minister of Finance and Personnel’s statement of 12 February.
We have started to work to improve our ability to assess budget priorities by reviewing the level of need and the effectiveness of current expenditure across a wide range of policies. The results of this will be fed into the framing of next year’s programme and Budget. At the same time we will continue to work to improve the public service arrangements, clarifying and developing the targets, specifying performance indicators and benchmarks and strictly monitoring progress throughout the year.
I will now turn to the importance of working together. We will achieve very little if we work individually, whether as Ministers, Departments or institutions. We will achieve much more if we can work together — across parties and Departments, with other organisations and Administrations. I would take as the theme for such an approach the four words of an insurance company’s advertising slogan: "Together we are strong." The reality of our political arrangements is that together we can be even stronger than we are at present. I hope that people are not afraid of that strength, which can help to develop what we are trying to do for the people we represent.
The actions in this Programme for Government are designed to help us to make progress in the priority areas that we have identified. But we will only succeed if, in each priority area, Departments work closely together to deliver results. The old silo mentality whereby Departments concentrated on their own narrow responsibilities and did not feel that they needed to co-operate with one another, or with other bodies, is unacceptable. The public will not accept it because it does not work and because that failure means poor services and wasted resources.
Let me take the example of health: 70% of the factors that influence our health lie outside the control of the Health Service. Taking action to tackle poverty, improve housing conditions, reduce unemployment, improve the quality of our air and water and raise standards in education will together have almost as great an effect on the health of our people as the combined skills of our doctors and nurses. This highlights the importance of our plans for a cross-cutting strategy to improve public health. This is a key commitment under our priority of "Working for a Healthier People."
We will therefore develop a joined-up approach to government within the Executive’s own work, with Ministers working together to develop cross-cutting policies in a much more coherent way.
The new Executive programmes are a practical means of enabling us to carry out more effective cross- cutting work. We are pleased that the concept of cross-cutting funding received strong endorsement during the consultation on the draft Programme for Government. We are currently considering the first bids from Departments and expect to take decisions on the first tranche of allocations in the coming weeks. The advice again is that if you think separately as a Department you will not fully realise those funds’ potential.
I would like to refer to inclusivity in relation to the Executive rather than the community. It is a shame, and I say this with great sincerity, that one of the parties to the Executive still feels it necessary for some arcane reason to work outside the Executive’s collective approach.
The term "principle" is bandied about here. I will put it very bluntly — as bluntly in the vernacular as I possibly can. Who do people believe are making the greatest contribution to the well-being and the lives of Northern Irish people as elected representatives? Those who sit in the Executive with reservations, such as the First Minister and his Colleagues? Those who sit in the Executive representing Sinn Féin who also have reservations? Those in our party who sit in the Executive and have to put up with some of the things we have to put up with? Who is making the greatest contribution? Those people or the people who exclude themselves?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for clarifying what is and what is not a point of order.
I will try again to touch consciences here. [Laughter] The guffaws would indicate that consciences are a scarce commodity in that part of the Chamber.
I again state that the contribution made by people in the Ulster Unionist Party, with reservations, by Sinn Féin Members, who have reservations, and by ourselves, who have to live with everybody else’s reservations — [Interruption] — will be remembered and appreciated long after the stunts of the parties making noise opposite have been forgotten.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Can you assure the House that those participating in the debate can wander as far as they wish from the subject? The learned Gentleman sitting beside the Deputy First Minister, Mr Alban Maginness, tried to limit me. It did not work, and it still sticks in his gullet.
I hope that in that time he was able to cover as much ground as he wished within the confines of the debate. From what I hear, the Deputy First Minister is referring to the Government. It does not seem irrelevant to the Programme for Government, which is the purpose of the debate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your ruling.
On the Programme for Government, let me answer Dr McCrea’s point. He referred to an upcoming event — and I am talking not about the Giants’ next ice hockey match in the Odyssey, which is against the wishes of the Executive and the people of the North of Ireland, but about an election. [Interruption]
The Member raised it. People will look at the Programme for Government as the manifesto of the Executive and the parties in it. They will measure it against the churlishness of those who refused to take part and they will make their decision.
We have listened and responded to the points made by the Assembly and others in finalising this Programme for Government. I have outlined some of the changes that we made. Other areas have been suggested, but it will take some time for us to consider and develop them before we can incorporate them into the programme.
We will also be looking at the lessons to be learned from this year’s exercise and considering how best to engage the Assembly and external organisations in the process of rolling forward the Programme for Government. We recognise the need for a major communications exercise to inform the public about the Programme for Government, and what they can expect from it, in straight forward non-bureaucratic language.
With devolution we have an opportunity to make a real and positive difference to the lives of people here. By working together in the priority areas, we have identified the means whereby we can deliver the commitments set out in the Programme for Government — and we can achieve that goal. I commend this motion to the Assembly.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the proposed Programme for Government. However, I would like to put on record that it is ridiculous that the Programme for Government was put forward yesterday in a motion by the First Minister, whose actions have undermined one of the key priorities of the Programme — that of developing North/South relationships.
Having said that, I support the Programme for Government because it is a very important document. It is not a radical document. It is not necessarily a visionary document, but it is important nevertheless. As the Deputy First Minister said, it will be a testament to the good and important work conducted by many of the parties here. The main issue of the Programme for Government is open, effective and accountable Government. One of the headlines in the introduction of this Programme was about making a difference.
I want to talk about the public service agreements (PSAs) in general. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have already talked about joined-up Government. These agreements are statements of the aims and objectives of the various parts of Government, together with a statement of the resources available and the performance targets expected of Departments. Many PSAs fall far short of delivering on what they promise. It is important to remember that they are supposedly contracts with the people but, unfortunately, they often do not contain clear and measurable targets.
I accept that a great deal of work has been done in the past year, not least by the parties in the Executive who are working together, not just in running the various Departments, but in developing the Programme for Government, the setting up of the Budget, the Targeting Social Need action plans, the equality schemes, and these PSAs. However, much more work needs to be done, otherwise many of these PSAs will be long on rhetoric but short on substance.
These agreements are a vital ingredient, not only in the delivery of the Programme for Government commitments, but also in the delivery of commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement.
In the final analysis, without those types of public service agreements, we do not have any measurable outcomes by which we can judge how effective this Executive will be in the new dispensation.
I was particularly concerned yesterday — and I think that it underlined my view on this matter — by the First Minister’s response to a question from Conor Murphy on the unemployment differential between Catholics and Protestants. The First Minister replied that he hoped to deal with that by creating full employment.
We all want to work towards and achieve full employment as soon as possible, but that is not the only way to resolve the problem of differentials that has plagued our society for many years. If that is the best that Mr Trimble can offer to deal with this problem, it proves that we need public service agreements, and many other provisions, tied down very tightly.
A brief example is the Department of Finance and Personnel’s public service agreement. I am a member of the Finance and Personnel Committee. That public service agreement, while it includes the broad principles contained in the "Growing from the Community" section of the Programme for Government, does not link its Department’s objectives to that section of the Programme for Government, so it falls short there.
Few of the public service agreements, and this has been borne out by other commentators, actually satisfy the SMART criteria, that is those targets that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.
I support the Programme for Government, but I want to hear commitments from the Executive and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that much more work will be done on those public service agreements. They are operational plans and the measurement by which we will determine how effective the Programme for Government is.
The Programme for Government is a modest document, and it should not therefore be too difficult to ensure that, given the modest demands and objectives that we have set ourselves, these measures are properly tied down and time bound in a much more specific way. If this does not happen, those public service agreements will remain long on rhetoric and short on substance.
I want to make some general points on the so-called Programme for Government that seem to me to be a matter of concern.
First, it is very difficult to understand how the document can contain a Programme for Government for the simple reason that, in general terms, there is no concrete analysis of the problems facing the various Departments. There is certainly no concrete assessment of the policy options that are proposed for action.
Secondly, anyone supporting this programme cannot possibly know what he or she is voting for. Let us take, for example, the crucial section on the promotion of economic growth on pages 56 and 57. Under the heading of "Actions", it refers to the achievement of annual export growth sales of manufacturing companies in Northern Ireland of 8.5% in real terms over the three-year period to 31 March 2004.
The programme also states that by March 2002 a Northern Ireland innovation strategy will be published. From 2001-02, it is proposed to stimulate an annual increase of 8% in the level of applications under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s main research and development programmes. During that same period, the programme intends to facilitate the provision, by the private sector, of venture capital.
The programme goes on in much the same way, but what is clear from those references is that the reference to strategies is not even a reference to some thinking that is already in concrete form. In other words, those are entirely empty references to strategies that are absolutely non-existent at present. Anyone voting for this so-called Programme for Government cannot possibly know what he or she is voting for.
Thirdly, the programme is full of references, and this was reinforced by the Deputy First Minister’s introduction this morning, to the jargon of human rights, social inclusion, anti-discrimination, equality and social disadvantage.
Those are laudable objectives — no one wants to live in a society where there is social disadvantage and discrimination. However, the unavoidable impression that I have is that the terminology is used to package a fundamental imbalance in the report. There is imbalance between redistribution and economic growth — wealth creation. The stress is on the redistribution aspect of economics instead of wealth creation.
If the First Minister made the point yesterday that the way to deal with the problems of inequality and social disadvantage in society is through wealth creation then I agree with him. What we have here is a stress on redistribution at the expense of wealth creation. That is exactly the same stress that existed in the United Kingdom for about fifteen years from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s and it brought the UK economy to the point of ruin.
I have no doubt that the concrete effect of this programme will be to burden the business sector, especially the small business sector, with heavy administrative overheads and extensive anti-business monitoring by the Equality Commission.
There is a role for Government in economic development. The school of economics that I come from tends to suggest that the less involvement that the Government have in an economy the better.
However, there is a role for the Government in developing an economic infrastructure and political infrastructure. The key aspect of the economic infrastructure is transport. In Northern Ireland we have a combination of growing congestion on the roads — that is costing business an increasing amount of money in terms of time lost — with an enormous backlog of required investment in something such as the rail transport. I do not see a concrete engagement with those problems in this Programme for Government.
The other infrastructure relates to politics and law. On a global level, one of the things that is now holding back the economic development of countries such as Russia is the absence of a proper framework of law in which market based economic activity can take place.
On a local level, the town centre manager at Lisburn says that the development of a night economy is being held back because people who go out to enjoy themselves in the evening will not go near the town centre because of hooliganism and thuggery. The Executive may not be responsible for the overall security situation in Northern Ireland but law, and the upholding of law, should be central to any comprehensive Programme for Government.
Foot-and-mouth disease is currently spreading through Northern Ireland — I hope I that I do not digress, Mr Speaker. The spread of that disease is not, contrary to the Minister’s statement yesterday, the responsibility of a few individuals. The problem was caused by an extensive network of smuggling that involves a deep-rooted element of criminality in this society that is organised by paramilitaries — in this case, by Republican paramilitaries.
An infrastructural issue was raised yesterday by the leader of the DUP that is crucial to the success of any Programme for Government, and it is not even mentioned in this programme. What we do have in this programme is the substitution of rhetoric for any real economic policies or engagement with the economic situation in Northern Ireland. The feasibility of anything that could be called a programme in this document is brought into question when rhetoric is substituted for reality.
The issue of feasibility has already surfaced because there has been a climb down on proposals to impose an 8% increase in rates on businesses in Northern Ireland over a three-year period. The proposal was so economically and politically unacceptable that it had to be withdrawn. That was the first casualty of the programme.
The programme will hit the buffers of economic reality in Northern Ireland at a time when major sectors of our economy are facing a crisis due to the imbalance between redistribution and wealth creation and the lack of any real strategies. We have a simple verbal reference to strategies, which are at this moment non-existent.
I noted with interest that after what proved to be a bogus point of order during the Deputy First Minister’s speech you ruled that references to "Government" were relevant to the process of government. It is largely to the process of government that I wish to address my remarks.
There is little point in having a Programme for Government that can only be described as aspirational. Members from both sides of the political divide have referred to it as being long on rhetoric and short on substance.
The institutions, or vehicles of government, that will deliver the programme are totally defective, devoid of democratic substance, and will in many cases encourage the lawlessness that arises from violations of the rule of law in the interests of political expediency. The Executive that will carry out this Programme for Government is fatally flawed in democratic terms.
Everyone claiming to be a democrat would accept that the fundamental principle of any democratic Government is the electorate’s power, at an election, to remove a Government from office. That principle governs devolution in Scotland and Wales, where a majority, either a single party or a coalition, has the responsibility for government. If those Governments’ records are inadequate or inefficient the electorate can remove them from office in an election. That basic principle is absent from the vehicle of government here — the Executive — that proposes to deliver the Programme for Government. In that fact lies the relevance of what I have to say.
If there is an election at the end of the present term, the same parties across the Nationalist/Unionist divide will be returned. Under the d’Hondt principle, the parties will appoint the same Ministers, or perhaps Ministers from the same party, regardless of how inefficiently or undemocratically their predecessors have performed. There will be an election but the electorate will be denied the fundamental right to change the Government.
What we have here posing as a democratic Executive is a monster — a political Caliban. I am not aware of any Government that claims to be democratic but which includes the political representatives of terrorists who are determined to remain armed.
I return to a matter that was raised yesterday. The Deputy First Minister referred to it today when he talked about Sinn Féin — the laudable and democratic Sinn Féin party that is participating so well in the process of government. The Deputy First Minister contrasted that participation unfavourably with the activities of the Democratic Unionist Party. He forgot, however, that in November 1998 at his party conference he quite clearly and unequivocally stated that he would give a guarantee.
That guarantee was that if, by 22 May 2000, Sinn Féin had not succeeded in ensuring that the IRA had decommissioned, he would join with others in seeing that it was excluded from any Executive. In fairness to him, I have to say that it is true that there was a corollary to that guarantee — that he would also ensure that if Unionists continued to obstruct or block the entry of Sinn Féin into the Executive he would support that party. The truth is that one half of that guarantee has been met. The Ulster Unionists, lemming like, jumped over the cliff. They jumped first and permitted Sinn Féin to be in the Executive.
Do we find that this democratic arrangement worked? Do we find that there was any honouring of the guarantee that he gave? It was a guarantee that could not be removed from the democratic table. If it was right in November 1998 to say that the representatives of a political party fronting an armed terrorist organisation should not participate in the Government unless they disarmed, it must be valid today. But what do we find? We find that this Programme for Government before us today is based on the participation of parties in the Executive who are still advocating that violence and the democratic process are equal weapons in securing their objectives. Fundamentally, a house that is built on sand — a Programme for Government that is based upon an Executive that is inherently flawed and undemocratic — cannot stand. An Executive proposing a Programme for Government, which itself offers no prospect to the electorate of judging in a subsequent election the record and stewardship of that Executive, is not democracy.
I now turn to the next aspect of this undemocratic and unprincipled arrangement to deliver this programme. Each Minister of the 10 Departments is not appointed collectively by a First Minister. If they are inefficient or negligent, there is no question of the First Minister, or even the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, being able to dismiss them. They are not his appointees. Under the d’Hondt system they are the appointees of the party that placed them there. Their first duty is not to any sense of collective responsibility in the Executive — their first duty is to deliver the objectives of the party that placed them there and which can remove them from office or replace them with others.
Some people would say — rightly, I believe — that, far from having a Government who are subject to collective responsibility, we have 10 Departments, each governed by an independent political warlord owing no collective responsibility to the Assembly or, indeed, to the Executive. Members who spoke earlier have drawn attention to this. The Member for North Antrim, in a lengthy speech yesterday, made reference to the activities of the Minister of Education in relation to the allocation of funds. No fair-minded person looking at the apportionment of those funds among state, maintained and integrated schools could conceivably come to the conclusion that there was anything other than a heavy bias — an extraordinary bias — in favour of that section of the community which is notionally believed to be supportive of a Nationalist political philosophy or, indeed, a Republican one.
Is it not amazing that there is only one Junior Government Minister in the House today? The SDLP has on its Front Bench people who are not in the Executive. We get lectures in this House about another place. In another place the Minister would be here. The First Minister and the Second Minister come and insult the Assembly by telling us that they have a programme to get us into the land of milk and honey. Then they do not even listen to the debate.
I am grateful to the Member for his remarks. [Interruption] The inane guffaws indicate the absence of any real attention to the central theme of what has been said. However, let us return to this issue of the independent warlords.
In the Department of Health there was, at a very early stage of this Executive’s life, an issue relating to the paediatric unit and where it would be placed — at the City Hospital or the Royal Victoria Hospital. The Health Committee met, and I believe that a decision was made based on cross-community support. Certainly Members of the SDLP on that Committee voted in favour of the paediatric unit being placed at the City Hospital.
The matter was brought before the Assembly, and its view was similar to that of the Committee. However, because there is no collective responsibility and because Ministers can do whatever they want, the decision of the Minister was to ignore the Assembly and the Committee. She made the decision that it would be placed, surprisingly enough, in an area where she could claim it was of some benefit to the people who support her party.
We have heard much great talk from both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister about Departments working together — all departmental rivalries must be abolished because they contribute to poor service and wasted resources. At least in those circumstances there was one central political directive, with a degree of collective responsibility, making the decision. The rivalries — if rivalries they were — were essentially confined to officials.
There was no question of the relevant Ministers not being able to tick off their Departments. They were the people with political power. That is not so under the present arrangement. If there were inter-departmental differences and rivalries at an administrative level in the Civil Service, what have we substituted them with? We have substituted them with rivalries with much greater power and much greater decision-making capacity at the political level. Who is going to suggest that the Departments are working in harness?
Almost every day on every issue brought before the Assembly — if it is an agricultural issue, the Minister from the SDLP gives her account of the measures she is taking in relation to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease — statements are being made by other parts of the House. The Minister, rightly or wrongly, says that they are party point-scoring activities.
The same thing happens when a Minister appointed by the DUP a statement about matters within his control, such as clearing roads after a snowstorm. We get exactly the same at a political level — attacks from Members of the SDLP and Sinn Féin.
The truth is that each of the warlords and their supporting groups, far from getting together to work together and to abolish the old rivalries, are now, at this higher level of political power, attacking each other.
I attribute no specific blame, for this happens on both sides of the House. It happens because there is no democracy, no collective responsibility, and no single Minister belonging to a majority party, or a coalition consisting of a majority of parties, who is responsible for sacking them.
The matter spreads even further. For example, there are Ministers who are literally doing what they want. Of course, in the interests of the communal, happy, "touchy-feely" spirit, from time to time we are given emollient doses of political ecumenism as the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister nod, wink and smile at each other across the House. Apart from the capacity of the electorate to change its Government, the second fundamental principle of government is to have a Government and a responsible Opposition — an Opposition that hopes one day to inherit the reins of government. Can that happen in this posturing Assembly or Executive? Of course it cannot happen. There is no effective Opposition in this House.
There are 91 Members holding seats for the four parties that form the Executive. In a sense, those 91 Members form the Government. They may participate to a greater or lesser degree, but they are the Government. Therefore the Opposition is notionally reduced — if my arithmetic is correct — to 17 Members. One of those is the Speaker. The Alliance Party, the PUP and the Women’s Coalition — numbering, I think, nine — are notionally in favour of the Executive and the agreement. The effective opposition consists of those who believe that they are not part of the Executive in any shape or form and who question the entire basis upon which this Assembly and its Executive — the Executive that is to deliver this Programme for Government — are established. They constitute what passes for a position. However, they will never be in a position, under the democratic principles of Government, to replace it.
The truth — if people would only acknowledge it — is that this largely aspirational Programme for Government, even though it contains many aspirations that are worthy and that any civilised democrat would hope to see discharged, has, as the hon Member for Lagan Valley pointed out, no substance. It talks about putting strategies in place for specific dates, but there is absolutely no concrete basis upon which such strategies can be justified, because they have yet to be formulated and published.
When we look at what this Executive and Assembly can do, it must be acknowledged that real powers are extremely limited. Politically, the British Government have been very skilful. They have put the Executive in the position — in truth — of having a purely administrative role. Yes, they have certain legislative powers. They can legislate for street trading, dogs and a few other things, just as the old Stormont Government could. However, what they can do in real terms, particularly on the economic front, is entirely limited by the size of the cake that is allotted. The Executive have only the job of carving up a cake — the size of which they have no control over — among a host of competing interests. And when it is not carved up very well, guess what? Central Government have interposed a buffer. The Executive and the Assembly will take all the flak for the inefficiencies and difficulties of education and housing because "It is your baby."
Let us look at agriculture. Within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland had the best record both for incidence of BSE and for a computerised tracing system of cattle from birth to the abattoir. It also had the largest percentage of its produce earmarked for export. It was, therefore, more acutely vulnerable to the ban on beef export to Europe than any other part of the United Kingdom. Yet the truth is that the Assembly could do absolutely nothing about it.
We have an energy problem. The cost of energy in Northern Ireland is exorbitant compared to other parts of the United Kingdom. Why is that so? It is because central Government negotiated the contracts with Northern Ireland Electricity and wanted that company to look as profitable as it could when they floated it. Therefore they had to place in the arrangement the best possible terms for the private company to make money in order to attract shareholders. As a result they entered into contracts that crucified the consumers of electricity in Northern Ireland.
However, we had an anodyne report from the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment yesterday, and what did he tell us? He told us that there is no point in going to beg to the Treasury of central Government. If the Executive are worth their salt, why have they not spelt out in clear and specific terms the fact that consumers in Northern Ireland are paying well over the odds because of the incompetence, negligence and self-interest of central Government when they negotiated these contracts? Why? It is because the truth would be revealed and the Executive would be sent off with a flea in their ear and told "Get on with it. You are the Government now; you are running the place. You make whatever fist you can of the energy problem within the limits of the authority that we have devolved to you."
Those are only some aspects that make the whole business of this Executive false and empty. Members of Sinn Féin and of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party have used the same language to describe this Programme for Government. It is big on rhetoric and small on substance. It is big on aspiration and weak on any clearly defined plan for delivering the fulfilment of those aspirations.
That is so because inherently this whole Assembly and the Executive that it forms did not arise from a political settlement that would enable a devolved Executive to govern this place in the interests of Nationalists and Unionists, and Catholics and Protestants. It was created to answer the problem of conflict resolution between the British state and armed Republicanism that threatened the economy and well-being of the British mainland.
I return to the fundamental issue of democracy. The Deputy First Minister said in November 1998 that if decommissioning did not take place he would join in removing Sinn Féin from this body.
If that is how the Deputy First Minister understood the terms of the agreement, then as Sinn Féin entered the Executive, and the second leg of that guarantee was removed — and the Unionists delivered — that still holds good today.
However, what did Members hear? They heard the Deputy First Minister laud Sinn Féin for its democratic participation and castigate the DUP for adhering to the principle of not participating with the political representatives of armed terrorists.
However, the matter goes further because the fundamental causes that may make all of those high-sounding aspirations and the Programme for Government fail are the increasing lawlessness, disregard for the rule of law and disrespect for authority that the necessity of placating and appeasing terrorism injects into the process.
All Members know — because it has been the subject of debate — that one third of motor fuel used in Northern Ireland is being smuggled through south Armagh. However, nobody cared very much about that. So long as bombs were not going off on the United Kingdom mainland and members of the security forces were not being shot that was the price one had to pay.
An academic report from the University of Ulster — a non-party body — stated that the Government, in aid of political objectives, had violated the Mitchell principles. The report accused the Government of adopting a "Hear no evil, see no evil" attitude to paramilitary crime. It stated that if the Government had interfered and come down strongly on paramilitary crime they might have offended not only Sinn Féin but those other worthies who, though not in office, do inhabit this place — the PUP. I draw no distinction between political parties that use violence, murder and mayhem to secure their political objectives be they Irish unity or the Union.
My attention is largely directed towards Sinn Féin because its electorate entitles its representatives to places in the Government as Ministers. I have never fully understood why the major parties decided to leave the education and health ministries — which account for 70% of the annual budget — in the hands of Sinn Féin, but they did. No reason has ever been given for that except that they were difficult ministries and would give rise to problems. Neither the SDLP nor the Ulster Unionist Party laid claim to those ministries that are fundamental to the good governance of any modern state.
If the great Programme for Government is to be delivered the time has come — and it has been echoed from the most curious quarters — for the SDLP to decide if it belongs in the loop of democracy and democrats even though it disagrees with the objectives of the opposing democratic parties. It will have to decide if it is going to continue, as seems to be the case, in the loop of pan-Nationalism that includes a party not only dedicated to violence but which publicly declares its ongoing use of violence if necessary.
Much has been made of the dissident IRA. I listened to Jack Straw saying that the bomb outside the BBC would not be allowed to upset the peace process. It is intended not so much to upset the peace process as to ensure that the increasing and future demands of its alter ego — Sinn Féin/IRA — are given in to.
Until the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party decide whether they are to be the parties of the Centre, and if they are, to democratically deliver this much vaunted Programme for Government, the Executive and the Assembly will continue to be under threat from the increasing mass of ordinary democrats out there among the electorate who say that it cannot continue. If they do not, they may declare in this Programme for Government all the aspirations they seek to obtain and they may aspire to all sorts of good things for Northern Ireland. But for as long as the basic social infrastructure is being rotted away and corrupted by violations of the rule of law in aid of political objectives, all these grandiose schemes and programmes will come to nought.
I want to deal in part with chapter 5 of the Programme for Government — "Securing a Competitive Economy" — but I am unable to resist the temptation to make some observations on one or two of the remarks made by the last two Members who spoke. This is an aspirational document. The word "aspirational" is almost being treated as abusive, but it is aspirational because it covers a period of time in the future. It sets out objectives and targets, but as it deals with the future it is, by definition, aspirational. There is nothing wrong with that. It is essential that one aspires to some objective and has a target to aim for, but it is not an empty programme because it has targets, and a significant effort has been made by all Departments to match resources to those targets.
The most comprehensive effort ever has been mounted in Northern Ireland with the Civil Service to put the programme together. A lot of work went into it. There is no doubt that we will not reach all our targets and that we may have difficulties. Who could have predicted with great accuracy the devastation of the potential crisis that we are facing today? That will have implications for the programme. It will have implications for targets in my Department and for targets in other Departments. Nevertheless, that does not in any sense remove the legitimacy of an Administration’s putting forward a programme to the Assembly which has an aspirational dimension.
I listened to the hon Member for North Down Mr McCartney describe, in his terms, how he considered the Administration functioned or did not function. He referred to independent warlords. It is true to say that there is no shortage of independent warlords in this country, and it may be true to say that some people would like their Departments to be freer to do their own thing. That is only a natural human reaction. But what he describes in his remarks is so far removed from reality that it is a breathtaking lack of appreciation of how an Administration actually functions. It does not function and it cannot function in the way that he describes.
Most actions that Departments take involve expenditure. By definition the sums of money that are allocated, ultimately decided here, go through a filtering process. There is the role of the Department of Finance and Personnel, which is not inconsiderable, and the idea that people just come along with programmes and put them on the table without any reference to the Executive, other parties, Committees or other Members is simply nonsense. It does not work like that.
The hon Member must be simply desperate when he gets up in the morning because he has two choices. Does he come here to this undemocratic and hopeless organisation, which cannot do this, that or the other, or does he go to London, sit there and attempt to legislate for the whole of the United Kingdom. What does he do in the mornings? It must be a terrible dilemma.
The interesting thing is that he and lots of other people end up here. They do not end up over there. If this place is so terrible, corrupt and corrupting, how is it that people cannot keep away from it? They love it, and they love to be here. They love to be heard here, and they love to be seen to be here. They love to be on Committees, and they love to chair them. They love to influence events. Nobody forces them to be here. Nobody is arm-locking them to be in here. You could not keep them out because they love it, and they are comfortable here. They have alternatives to being here, but the fact is that they are here. [Interruption]
Yes. OK, there is nothing wrong. They can look smart.
Some people say that this place is so terrible and that the agreement under which the Assembly was established is so awful. Why then do people go to so much trouble to be here and participate? Surely, if this is the case, the place to be is in the Mother of Parliaments where the power and the money come from. The reality is that people know that what makes things work are the administrative aspects of activities.
The Member for North Down Mr McCartney indicated that the bulk of what is done here is administrative. It is, but that is what government is primarily about within a legislative framework. That is what people want, by and large. While they may differ dramatically over the internal structures of what is here and why it is here, there is an overwhelming desire among the population for a greater ability to administer themselves. That is happening throughout the United Kingdom, and it is also a Europe-wide phenomenon. The Europe of the regions is growing and is not a new thing. Most successful European economies and countries have federal structures, and administrative power is devolved to the regions.
Similarly, we were once unique in the United Kingdom, but we are no longer unique. Indeed, we are fitting in more appropriately with the pattern of events. I readily accept that anybody can see why this Administration is constructed totally differently.
The implication was that events could not influence or change this Government. Remember where we have come from. Were we able to change the Government over the past 30 years? The major parties did not even organise here, and one can only be part of changing a Government when one can vote for the parties that can make it up. We have not had that opportunity during direct rule, so it is an academic argument to say that you cannot change the Government.
What influences events is how people are able to administer laws, how they allocate and administer the Budget, and how things are actually done at ground level. Until now, the criticism has always been that we needed accountable democracy — we could not leave everything to the civil servants. Now we are being told that they have even greater power than they ever had. That is rubbish. Anyone with any experience of dealing with it would know that.
So far as the economic side is concerned, I listened to the hon Member for Lagan Valley when he was making his remarks, and I know he has many years’ experience in this field. He referred to the issue of redistribution versus economic growth, and I understand his argument. However, the ability to redistribute wealth is primarily done through the mechanisms of taxation and at the points at which taxpayers’ money is allocated. The Member knows that we are administering and distributing taxpayers’ money as a result of votes in Parliament.
He is correct in that the primary function must be to encourage the creation of wealth, because from that will flow the resources and revenues that will improve the economic activity of our community and ensure our companies can trade in a business-friendly environment. I ask the Member to consider whether it is true to say that expenditure incurred trying to influence companies by decision-making is wrong in itself. I shall give the Member an example.
You may recall the announcement made last year by an American corporation that it was going to establish a major facility in North Belfast. I refer to TeleTech in Duncairn Gardens. It would not have been possible for that decision to have been made if we had not, in the first place, erected —
The Member can be smug and smart about this matter, but we are trying to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
I make no secret about it — and I will tell the Member that so long as I have anything to do with it, I will try to do more of it. Had we had not anticipated the needs of companies such as TeleTech and erected, at risk, the plant now being occupied by this corporation, it clearly would not have been in that area of significant deprivation. It would not have provided an anchor in an area that has seen some of the worst atrocities in this community, and it is my belief that it is a constructive part of what we can do here; to influence these decisions and ensure that there is a regeneration of economic activity in areas that have been blighted hitherto —
I endorse what the Minister said about North Belfast and the siting of TeleTech in Duncairn Gardens. It is an area where both communities have suffered from tremendous unemployment. I want to pay tribute to the Minister for bringing that particular firm to North Belfast and providing employment opportunities for people who, hitherto, have been deprived of them. It is deplorable that Mr McCartney seeks to criticise the Minister about doing something very positive for the people of North Belfast.
The reality is that Members will ask for my help. Although there is a degree to which I can help, by providing incentives in some cases, I cannot direct. Companies will make their own decisions at the end of the day, and that is right and proper. Nowadays, companies will not invest at the point of a gun — in the sense that a state organisation could force a private company, particularly an international corporation, to establish its facility in any particular area. That does not work.
He can interrupt if he likes. However, he has asked a question and I am attempting to respond to it. I did not have to give way in the first place.
I am saying to the Member that De Lorean was used as a type of weapon. It cast a shadow over the Northern Ireland Civil Service for over 20 years. However, it was a project that almost succeeded. I visited the factory and saw what was achieved in 18 months. They began with a greenfield site and ended up by manufacturing one of the most sophisticated vehicles of its time — with a workforce that had no previous experience of such activity. It was an enormous achievement by the people involved. However, a number of crooks got in on the act, and, coinciding as it did with huge interest rate rises in the United States, a downturn resulted — [Interruption]
I did not interrupt anybody. I was asked the question on an intervention. Either Members want to listen or they do not. That is a matter for Members.
De Lorean was a risk that many Members would have been prepared to take based on the information available at the time.
Members will urge public resources to be invested in other projects — even current projects — and not only in industrial development. Such projects may appear on paper to be much riskier than the De Lorean project did at the time, yet people will still look for support for them. Members must be careful. If we adopt the hard line, laissez-faire attitude across the board, there will be some squealing in this Chamber.
We all want to do the best for our areas. We could apply the same slide rule to some of the aforementioned projects across the board, or we could simply say that it is tough if factories in Newtownards or North Down want to close. Do we want to adopt that policy? Of course not. However, we have perhaps lived under that policy for many years before devolution.
I readily accept that there are enormous deficiencies in this institution, but I believe that most Members are committed to improving the life and the lot of the people whom they represent. However difficult things might be, Members will use this mechanism to achieve that. That is why there is such a high level of participation in the Assembly. That is why everybody, with the exception of a handful of people, is represented on Committees and why those entitled to be in the Executive are in it. Basically, everyone accepts and acknowledges that they can do more for their constituents in the institution — all parts of it — than they can out of it. They are right: prior to devolution, only 2·5% of public expenditure in Northern Ireland was under the control of locally elected representatives, namely the local authorities. That was a negligible amount. Now, we can redirect our resources to make a difference.
The Member for Lagan Valley Mr Roche made the correct point that the creation of wealth is the key to the economic future of any society. He was therefore right to say that there was a limit to what any Government could do and that that limit must be understood. We must make this an attractive place for investment. I am conscious of problems with red tape and of the fact that we should not impose a greater burden than is absolutely necessary on any company that establishes itself here. Such a burden takes up time, and time is money. Companies do not want more form-filling than they can handle. We have examined closely every piece of paper issued to establish whether it is necessary, why it is being issued and, if it must be issued, that the information in it is as succinct and as simple as possible. Every section of my Department is doing that, checking out the need for every piece of paper and seeing whether the issues can be dealt with in some other way. We are dealing with the build-up of primary and secondary legislation over many decades in some cases.
Mr Roche was right to draw attention to that point, in the context of the commitments on rights and other issues in the Programme for Government. However, the matter must be put in the European context; the European Convention is now part of national law. That in itself will have implications — indeed, it has already. I understand the substance of Mr Roche’s argument, and, from my limited resources, I will attempt to do something practical about it.
It is essential that we ensure, as far as any Administration can, that we create circumstances in which businesses can grow. That means putting in the necessary infrastructures, including telecoms and broadband technology. We must ensure that the issues relating to our energy market are settled as well as possible. Yesterday, in response to my statement, the Member for North Down Mr McCartney suggested that the only solution was to ask the Treasury for the money and that if the Treasury did not give it to us, that would be our tough luck. Regardless of whether we have devolution or not, if the Treasury is not going to give us the money, it is not going to give us the money. That does not mean, however, that nothing can be done about it. We can do nothing without devolution, but with devolution we can do something about it, and I intend to.
Yesterday, we set out a plan to address the issues. Those are exceptionally difficult, but what is the alternative? There is a counsel of despair that we should simply accept fate and do nothing. I do not accept at all that there is nothing that we can do.
I do not accept that we have to agree to the status quo and say that we can do nothing about the situation, claiming that it is our fate. We have to make our own living in the world and create circumstances where we, as a community, can put our resources into those matters that we believe should be prioritised. Therefore, on the economic side, we need to have the right infrastructure and as competitive a situation as possible for our companies. Energy is one aspect of that, but we need to put it into context. For many companies, energy consumption can be as little as 1% of total turnover. It varies from place to place. It is not necessarily a knock-out blow, but in some industries energy consumption is much higher.
Of course, we can have a direct impact on the plight of the domestic consumer, and it is my intention to try to do so. We set out a plan with targets yesterday in the Programme for Government. We cannot say for certain that we are going to meet these targets, but if we do not have them and are not genuinely attempting to improve the lot of the people whom we represent, then what are we here for? I realise the huge problems that we face, but I do not understand how people can be so depressing. Having that depressing attitude does not provide any solution or idea of how to improve the situation — it just tells one how awful things are.
Reference was made to lawlessness and disrespect for authority. Those matters are not confined to Northern Ireland. If one were to walk through the backstreets of Manchester or any of the big cities in England or some of the major estates in Scotland, Dublin or anywhere else in western Europe, one would know something about disrespect for authority. There were pictures on television last night of French farms being barricaded by the gendarmerie to stop people getting onto them. Even under those circumstances the citizens were pushing past to try to get lambs for their religious festival.
The death rates in some of the cities in the rest of the UK are infinitely higher than anything we face here. While the situation here is far from perfect, we must look at the circumstances that we have come from. Can no one see the graph? Members will recall vividly that, in the past, when we turned on the television we would see the latest bomb and bits of people being swept into bags. No one wants to see that again. We are not in that situation now, thank God. There are still some people out there who want us to be in that position.
We have experienced the best period of economic growth in the Province for many years. This is happening because investors have greater confidence. For instance, we have seen huge increases in house prices. That is a double-edged sword for many people, but it is symptomatic of the fact that people have greater confidence in the economic situation.
There are many shortcomings and shortfalls, but I still believe that it is necessary to examine the past and establish the trends. Instead of focusing exclusively on what is wrong, let us try to fix what we have and improve the situation to get to where we want to be. That is not something that can be done quickly, especially after the past 30 years. But we have an opportunity now. Look at the unemployment rates. Fifteen years ago — a relatively short time — unemployment rates were 16%, 17% and 18% on average. In many areas, the rates were well above that — 25%, and nearly 30%, in one or two difficult cases. In some estates, one would have been looking at 60%, 70% and 80%. We have not totally escaped from all of that, but we are now in the mid-range of unemployment in the UK. That is unprecedented — Northern Ireland always had the highest rate. We are 2·5 points below the European Union average in unemployment.
We are going out and trying to attract back people who left this Province because we need them to work. While business people make up their own minds about investment and so on, they do listen and make their judgement on what they believe to be the realities. Those realities include the fact that we are able to show that we have a good, strong supply of labour coming forward in demographic terms. It is the best in these islands and, indeed, among the best in western Europe. That is going to be a very great asset in the years to come.
The biggest problem that many economies face — the Japanese economy is a classic example — is that they are going to run out of people because their populations have negative growth. Germany is going to experience major shortages. Its short-term solution is to try to bring in people from Third-World countries to bridge the gap. In so doing, they are denuding those countries of the very people whom they need to get themselves on track. Members know the social and political implications in Europe of bringing in large numbers of people. We have already seen it. We have a wonderful asset in our people.
Related to that, the second thing that we have is one of the lowest turnover rates for people in work. We are able to offer to companies worldwide a good quality supply of labour and the lowest turnover rates of labour — attrition rates, as they are called. Those are huge assets we can exploit. We do not have the natural resources of many other countries. Our major natural resource is our people. If we focus on that, it will stand us in good stead.
Mr McCartney referred to the lack of co-operation between Departments. I totally refute that. With regard to the economic areas, there is greater co-operation today than at any time in the past 30 years. It is taking place because the Ministers in those Departments insist upon it. There are joint meetings and committees. It is happening and we are co-ordinating. It is one of the objectives in this document, and it is a first attempt at it. With the public service agreements attached to it, I believe that we have the right basic infrastructure and geometry to create that co-ordination. I do not detect in any sense the rivalries or disparate activity that the Member referred to. I see a totally different picture, and I believe very strongly that whatever flaws there may be in the Programme for Government — and there may well be some — the main thrust is positive. It is a genuine attempt — the first major attempt — to co-ordinate the activities of many different Departments. It is also an attempt to co-ordinate the financial side. Without that the targets and aspirations are meaningless. We should now concentrate on seeing whether we can implement and improve it. It is that, I believe, which will stand us in good stead in the years ahead.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. There have been some welcome additional commitments, particularly in relation to equality. The commitment to bring forward, consult on and implement cross-departmental policies to tackle gender inequalities is long overdue.
It is clear that the equality Bill will harmonise anti-discrimination law as far as is practicable, and the welcome extension into new categories, including age and sexual orientation, will make it inclusive for the whole population. It is also clear that the promotion of best practice is intrinsic in the new Bill.
The Finance and Personnel Minister yesterday announced that the review of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to address the under-representation of many groups, in particular women and Catholics, is under way. This should be applauded.
On the subject of disability, I refer to the pledge to make further progress on the recommendations from the disability rights taskforce. This is an important step in the drive to promote the social inclusion of those with disabilities. Over the past couple of weeks three Departments and the Assembly have collectively addressed the needs of these people, and this is a very positive move. The promise of an additional 35,000 consultations for people suffering from mental illness, and the review of the current legislation relating to mental health — an area that has been left lagging for a long time — will go some way towards redressing the balance in favour of those suffering from mental illness.
I ask the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to ensure that, in future budgets, funds for mental health are ring-fenced in future budgets. This would ensure that trusts, such as Down Lisburn Trust, will not lose £100,000 of their mental health budgets to acute hospitals without knowing when that money will be returned.
I will now turn to education. The structure of our education system must be radically changed to meet the needs of society today and the anticipated needs of the future. The commitment to reviewing school funding to ensure that there is equality between school types and better targeting of social and educational need is an important step towards building equality of opportunity into the system.
While I welcome the Minister’s recent announcement on the capital spend allocation, this is still not enough to tackle the dreadful state of the schools estate. Too many schools still depend on sub-standard mobile accommodation, which has a detrimental effect on both pupils and staff. Just yesterday afternoon, Dr Paisley stated that Strandtown Primary School has eight mobile classrooms, five of which he said were "not fit to rear chickens in". Let me tell him that we have 2,500 mobile classrooms throughout our schools in Northern Ireland. A few weeks ago I asked the Minister of Education to prioritise the issue of mobile accommodation. I hope that his decision last week to award capital funding to two schools in the secondary sector — one of which has 40 mobile classrooms and the other 34 — is an indication of his commitment to addressing the problem of mobile accommodation.
The problem of underachievement should also be prioritised, and I welcome the Minister’s commitment to doing this. I also welcome the funding he has allocated to allow children with special needs to enter mainstream education without having to face the terrible bureaucracy that existed in the past. The problem for many children with disabilities is not just one of physical access to schools. There needs to be better access to the services inside these schools once a child has passed the front door.
I hope that there will soon be a positive outcome from the many other initiatives and vital programmes in our education system, including proposals in the Programme for Government, to tackle bullying and behavioural problems. We must ensure that we target social need and direct funding towards areas where those children who are in greatest need will benefit. New targeting social need must be people-based rather than geography-based, as it is at present.
The commitment to developing proposals and having consultation on the establishment of a commissioner for children, and a new strategy for children demonstrates the high priority that the Government give to the protection of young people in Northern Ireland.
Gaps in the legislation still need to be dealt with to ensure that our young people are protected. This is particularly the case with the new Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults Bill that will come before the House later in the year.
On the commitment to realising the full potential for enhanced co-operation through the North/South Ministerial Council, I hope that that there will be improved communication between the two jurisdictions resulting in a more co-ordinated approach to vetting people who work with our vulnerable young people. It is essential to protect our young people’s human rights and promote their right to equality. Moreover, the children’s commissioner must be independent of the Government and have a broad mandate to protect children’s interest and, thus, to make them more visible in the Government’s policy structures. That means looking at how the Government can best take into account issues affecting our young people.
We now have the opportunity to widen consultation with children across the whole of Northern Ireland. Choice and involving children in decisions that affect them are important for promoting social inclusion as well as for showing them that their opinions and beliefs are respected and will be considered at the planning stage of Government policy and legislation. That will give them parity of esteem.
The Administration are already equality proofing all their policies to ensure that they promote equality for young people. However, we must also look at the integral workings of the Executive and the Assembly to see how they can best deal with children’s issues. The forthcoming strategy for children must do that. All those actions will contribute to addressing the concern that the Government’s structures are failing children and will ensure that their needs are met through those structures. They will permit children’s active and responsible participation, giving them the opportunity to achieve their full potential. The effect would be to integrate child-friendly policies and cross-departmental co-ordination on issues that affect children.
The assurance of an improvement in the information available on religion, human rights, disability, sexual orientation and age will guarantee equality proofing for all future policies. Measures designed to tackle the social exclusion of travellers should result in improved standards in the provision of suitable accommodation for that group. Transferring responsibility for serviced sites for travellers to the Housing Executive should give them uniform treatment and empower them to have an input into the provision of better accommodation. The opportunity exists to establish a true inter-agency approach to the disadvantages suffered by the travelling community.
The issue of care for the elderly was debated at length last week and proved the need for funding to be given to those people who are greatly disadvantaged. That pensioners will benefit from free travel and public transport from October this year has to be seen as a favourable development. However, the issue of pensions has to be looked into as inequalities exist in the system, particularly for women who stayed at home to raise their families or who worked part-time. Many women, particularly those who are carers, find that they are not entitled to a full pension because they made a reduced number of national insurance contributions. They therefore have to depend on income support, which places many of them in the poverty trap.
I welcome the commitment to accountability of each Department for implementing the equality schemes and targeting social need (TSN) action plans, which form an integral part of each public service agreement. That is essential because of the proposal to link funding to achieving agreed output and outcomes.
In the main, the new commitments made in the Programme for Government demonstrate a willingness by the Executive to promote actively a socially inclusive society in Northern Ireland and to reflect that inclusiveness in future policy making. I therefore support the motion.
The sitting was suspended at 12.30 pm.
Before the start of business I have some bad news for those Members who have not yet spoken, and it is delivered through the usual channels, as they say in another place. Speeches will be limited to seven minutes, as there are around 35 people on the list. The winding-up speech for the amendment by the Alliance Party will be given 10 minutes. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will have 20 minutes. I am sorry about this, but if we are to get through the business, including two Bills later, Members will have to limit their rhetorical prowess.
I will endeavour to be as brief as possible. There were some directly political comments made this morning by the Member for East Belfast, Sir Reg Empey, in relation to the Programme for Government. There was what I can only describe as the old chestnut of accusation that those of us who are in the Assembly, despite our opposition to the system, were operating the system and sitting on Committees. As this has been the case for a couple of years, I want to state that we have never shied away and we will not shy away from participation in any system, however indirect or faulty it might be. We will not negate the DUP’s position by running away from our mandate. Our mandate at the election was to stand for election to the Assembly, to take our seats, to argue our case, to fight our corner and to represent those who voted for us. That was clear in the manifesto, and it is something that we intend to continue — without apology to anyone.
Turning to some departmental issues, the Programme for Government and the public service agreements are supposed to open every aspect of the work of each Department to the Assembly’s scrutiny. In the process of preparing documents I have consulted with the Committee for Regional Development and I wish to record my appreciation for the assistance that the Committee has given to me. As this process matures, the Committee’s views and advice will increasingly inform my approach.
On the actual content of the Programme for Government, one welcome change from the draft document that appeared last October is the commitment to introduce free travel on public transport for older people by October 2001. This has been one of my priorities ever since I became Minister for Regional Development. I am pleased that we have secured agreement to fund this centrally so that it can be introduced throughout Northern Ireland.
It would be appropriate, at this stage, to pay tribute to my predecessor, Peter Robinson, who did a lot of the groundwork on the initiative; the important role played by district councils throughout the country; all those who strongly advocated the scheme and also the supportive role of the Committee for Regional Development. This initiative provides an essential link to family, friends and the wider community. It is only right that those who contributed much to our society during their working lives can continue to feel part of it by making full use of public transport.
The announcement yesterday by my Colleague and me that we were taking the issue into the legal domain will, I am sure, mean its being highlighted in the other place in the coming weeks.
Several targets contained in the Programme for Government, particularly for roads and transport, reflect the fact that I have inherited a situation caused by decades of underinvestment in the essential infrastructure of the region. Members will be very familiar by now: an additional £2 billion is needed over the next ten years to develop and maintain roads and transport. The Water Service asset management plan, which is nearing completion, is likely to require at least £3 billion over the next 20 years.
The Programme for Government states
"The provision of infrastructure and major public services such as public transport, roads, water and sewerage, are essential for the social and economic well being of the region."
It is therefore imperative that there be further investment in those areas. If we consider the level of investment in transportation throughout the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, we can see that the economic competitiveness of Northern Ireland is dependent on a quantum leap in investment levels.
The proposals for capital road schemes set out in the Programme for Government for the next calendar year are relatively modest. However, we are still preparing schemes that we hope to take forward in 2002-03 and beyond, so it is imperative that we secure the additional resources required for those years. By their nature, capital infrastructure programmes require secure and adequate forward provision to enable sensible programming. I also intend to increase the road structural maintenance programme, with the objective of conforming to good practice treatment frequencies in due course. Again, in the absence of sufficient resources, that is still some time away.
The welcome additions for railways will enable us to agree a meaningful strategy for tackling the underinvestment in rail services in Northern Ireland with the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company. Consolidating the existing network will provide a platform for the future development of the railways in the context of the ten-year regional transportation strategy. Likewise, the introduction of a new fully integrated ticketing system for Translink will play a key role. Members will note the modest targets that have been set for investment in buses and coaches. That matter will have to be considered further.
I hope that the private sector will contribute substantially to our attempts to address those major funding deficiencies not only through injections of money, but by introducing innovative solutions to our problems and using its expertise. We will pursue public-private partnerships wherever value-for-money solutions can be found, and in a style and manner with which the people of Northern Ireland are comfortable. Indeed, over the next few days, I am scheduled to visit the United States to gain first-hand experience of private sector involvement in major physical infrastructure projects.
A LeasChann Comhairle, I want to focus on the education elements of the Programme. In the draft Programme, I set out an agenda for schools and the youth service, concentrating on the key pressures and priorities. I was immensely heartened to find that the responses to the consultations on the draft programme revealed broad consensus, both on the key issues that should be addressed and on the central role of the education service in creating and sustaining a stable and healthy society, a view that I have publicly stated as often as possible.
Many respondents expressed the view that the material in section 4.2 of the programme should be expanded to illustrate not only the importance of investing in education, but the broader strategic context in which the actions proposed in that section are set.
I have been very happy to accept that advice, and the revised draft reflects a significant expansion of the references to education, through the inclusion of a range of strategic targets in the text of section 4 and by the inclusion of the detailed supplementary material in my Department’s public service agreement in annex B.
As I said in a previous debate on the draft Programme for Government, we have a successful education system here, which has shown steady progress over recent years, and I think we can be justifiably proud of it. We know that our success as an economy depends on the quality of our education and training systems. Education serves more than the needs of the economy, it is the key to the personal development of individuals and to the building of a stable, tolerant and fair society, based on mutual respect and a recognition of diversity. There is therefore no alternative to continuing and growing investment in education, if we want to improve the quality of our peoples’ lives and make the most of the skills and talents of all our young people.
The education agenda set out in the Programme for Government is based on the key principles of equality, excellence, accessibility and choice, and it addresses a wide range of issues. It includes taking forward the review of our whole post-primary structure and commits us to a thorough and comprehensive review of the way in which we fund schools to ensure equity of treatment, regardless of sector and geographical location. It carries forward the fundamental review of the curriculum, to ensure that we meet the needs of our young people for a renewed and more relevant curriculum. It commits us to a comprehensive programme to equip all our schools with up-to-date information and communication technology (ICT) provision and all our teachers with the skills they need to use that resource properly in the classroom. It commits us to providing one year of pre-school education for all those children whose parents wish it. It includes a range of measures, both in schools and outside them, to support young people who are having difficulty or who are becoming alienated from the mainstream education system and to promote a safe and secure learning environment for our young people. It gives a commitment to renewing the youth service and helping it to extend access particularly among the most disadvantaged, and it commits us to addressing the backlog of high priority maintenance work and the terrible problem of the huge numbers of old and unsuitable temporary classrooms.
Yesterday, Dr Ian Paisley suggested that there was an imbalance in my capital build programme announced last week. I have consistently said that the schools capital build programme is determined on the basis of educational needs. To suggest, as Dr Paisley appears to, that the capital programme should be determined on the basis of school sector rather than on educational needs is, in effect, suggesting that I should discriminate against schools with greater educational needs. That is unacceptable.
The make-up of this year’s conventional school building programme, for Mr Paisley’s information, was as follows: six Catholic maintained school projects, costing £25·7 million; 10 controlled school projects, costing £24·1 million; and one grant-maintained integrated school, costing £12·5 million.
In addition, I announced provision for up to eight secondary school projects with a total capital value of some £70 million, under public-private partnerships, and they are grouped under three separate contracting authorities. The trustees of the Catholic maintained schools in the Derry diocese received £34 million, and the North Eastern Education and Library Board and the South Eastern Education and Library Board received some £36 million between them.
Dr Paisley is a bit long in the tooth for me to propose that he needs to return to school, but I am prepared to speak with my colleague, Minister Sean Farren, to establish if it is possible to find a place for Dr Paisley in further education, where he might yet learn to count.
One other vital commitment in the programme, is to the development of a real partnership for change. The education system is a complex network of agencies, and to improve the quality of what we offer our young people we need the commitment of everybody working in the education system. Hence the further commitment to provide an opportunity for all the education partners — the statutory bodies, the voluntary sector, the teachers unions and the teacher training institutions — to have a role and a say in developing education policy through the creation of an education partnership.
Finally, I will continue to take forward co-operation on the agreed North/South agenda in education which includes a range of vital issues such as educational underachievement, special educational needs, teacher qualifications, and school, youth and teacher exchanges, all of which hold out the prospect of real and practical gains for our young people no matter which part of this island they live on.
A LeasCheann Comhairle, this is a challenging and exciting programme for our education system and it will require a major investment in our schools and youth service. Consultations have shown that the programme has the commitment of all major interests in society, and I commend it gladly to the Assembly and the wider community.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline my Department’s contribution to the Programme for Government. However, I will first address two comments that were made about my Department in the debate yesterday.
Mr Neeson commented that the problem of sectarianism in sport is not mentioned in the Programme for Government. I refer him to the answer I gave to Mr McCarthy on 4 December 2000:
"Although not specifically mentioned in the Programme for Government, the issue of sectarianism in sport is included under the Safe Sports Grounds scheme, which is referred to in section 2.4.2 of the Programme for Government. It is a condition of the grant under this scheme that successful applicants will be required to formulate an equity statement for inclusion in the organisation’s constitution memorandum and articles of association, highlighting practical measures for how family, disability and sectarian issues will be addressed."
Mr McGrady has commented on the lack of mention of museums in the programme. I refer Mr McGrady to section 5.3.3, which states that we will
"develop a programme to enhance the range and quality of culture and leisure facilities, including our maritime and industrial heritage".
In addition, in my Department’s corporate strategy there is a specific action to develop a policy and strategy for local museums and heritage in Northern Ireland in partnership with the Northern Ireland Museums Council. My Department has 27 actions in the document out of a total of 250, all in priority areas.
As a new Department, our most pressing task, apart from tackling the years of underfunding for culture, arts and sports, has been to produce a plan for the future. We have published our first corporate strategy, and it sets out several key goals that underpin the priorities in the programme. These goals include increased participation in culture, arts and leisure and promoting and celebrating cultural diversity and individual creativity.
It is also vital that we contribute to the positive image of Northern Ireland at home and abroad and that we preserve and make available our cultural and information resources to the widest possible audience. My Department therefore has developed a daunting set of tasks, and we are totally committed to ensuring that we play a full part in making a real difference to everyone. For example, we want to make sure that art galleries, museums and sporting venues are accessible to everyone. It is vital to the well-being of society that as many people as possible can participate in sporting activities.
Creativity must be developed and encouraged for the benefit of the individual and, ultimately, the economy of Northern Ireland. We will help to secure a competitive economy — one of the programme’s priorities — by, for example, developing and promoting inland waterways and fisheries.
It is important that Northern Ireland is seen in the best light on the world’s stage, and we are committed to securing high-profile, international events. We have made a bid to be the 2008 City of Culture.
To achieve all our goals we will need to work closely with all the Northern Ireland Departments, the voluntary and community sectors and all the non-departmental and North/South bodies that provide culture, arts and leisure services.
I have been heartened by the welcome that our actions have received from the bodies that responded to the draft Programme for Government. Those included the Chinese Welfare Association, the Civic Forum, Queen’s University, the Heritage and Lottery Fund and the Training for Women Network Ltd. Those are just a few of the sources of widespread support that I have received, and it is very encouraging as we move forward in the devolved Administration.
As the locally elected representatives of the people, we know what the problems are and what issues really matter to the people of Northern Ireland. The Programme for Government highlights the priority issues that we need to tackle and outlines what we intend to do in the immediate future to solve those problems.
My Department will play its role fully. I urge Members to approve the Executive’s first Programme for Government. It is an excellent example of what can be achieved through working together. I am convinced that the programme, when fully implemented, will make a real difference to people’s lives. Everyone in Northern Ireland will benefit, and I commend the programme to the Assembly.
The programme captures all the major themes that will be at the centre of my Department’s efforts to make a real difference in higher and further education, training and employment. On the training and employment side, the programme is set in a social, economic and political context that is positive and full of hope and new opportunities.
The more stable political environment has brought significant benefits such as increased investment and higher levels of economic growth. The effects of that growth pertinent to my Department’s responsibility can be seen in the increased demand for skills in the new high-tech industries as well as in more traditional areas such as hospitality and catering.
Participation in higher and further education and training has increased due to the recent developments. Northern Ireland’s universities and colleges are expanding and are developing plans to meet the increased need. A wider range of full-time and part-time courses is on offer to students. Courses range from basic pre-vocational to degree standard — from pre-employment to post- experience levels.
In further education, the merger of the Training and Employment Agency’s training centre network with the further education colleges has provided a new focus for the delivery of vocational training. Lifelong learning has been encouraged by the establishment of the University for Industry through its learn direct services.
Key skill areas such as electronic engineering, software and telecommunications have been identified for particular expansion, and additional places are being made available in colleges and universities to meet current and expected demand.
New two-year foundation degrees — the design of which will involve universities, colleges and employers — will be introduced on a pilot basis in the next academic year.
To ensure that our research capacity is expanded to support, and indeed point the way forward for, social and economic development, additional funding is being provided through programmes such as the innovative support programme for university research.
My Department is conscious of the need to target resources to meet particular social needs. Its policies, as the programme reflects, take full account of those who are deficient in basic skills and the needs of those who could participate in post school education but who do not do so because of social and personal disadvantage.
Too many people have low literacy and numeracy skills. Too many young people leave education poorly equipped for work in a modern economy despite the high levels of achievement by others.
Too many people are unemployed on a long-term basis. Community differentials remain the same: Catholic men are still over represented in the numbers of long-term unemployed. Too many of our women remain economically inactive in comparison with other regions. If appropriate training and further education opportunities were available many would be anxious to return to the labour market.
These are some of the challenges my Department and I hope to address, both in the areas of the Programme for Government that are our responsibility and in those where we share responsibility with other Departments, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
A particular focus of my Department’s work in the coming year will be on widening access to higher and further education. In doing so we will be offering increased support to those from low-income backgrounds. To this end, I will soon bring to the Executive and Assembly detailed proposals on improved student support arrangements, including enhanced fee remission, means-tested, non-repayable access bursaries and additional places in higher and further education. I will also invest in the development of staff, particularly in further education, to improve standards and student achievement.
I will also take further steps to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have access to continuing education and training, including up-to-date learning resources to maintain and enhance their employability in a fast-changing world. My Department will provide individual learning accounts to help pay fees for part-time students in certain higher and further education vocational courses. Reducing long-term unemployment is fundamental to tackling a whole range of social and economic problems. By March 2002, my Department will have piloted a new training programme for adults with basic literacy and numeracy problems. From April next, we will introduce an enhanced version of the New Deal 25 plus programme, which contains specific Northern Ireland provision allowing early entry to the scheme for those returning to the labour market. In addition, I will chair an interdepartmental task force on employability and the long-term unemployed, the first meeting of which is to take place next week. This will focus on factors that make people employable; not just on knowledge, skills and motivation, but on considerations such as childcare, and the readiness and ability to travel to find work.
I draw particular attention to some of my Department’s targets and actions. They include providing an additional 850 domestic higher education places; increasing further education enrolments; developing the adult literacy and numeracy programme; activating 17,000 individual learning accounts, of which 10,000 have already been activated; and piloting the ONE initiative on joined-up welfare and employment services in association with other Government Departments.
In conclusion, I thank the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure for all its hard work and input into the formulation of the Programme for Government in my areas of responsibility.
Sean Neeson raised a question yesterday, and I would just like to answer it. He referred to the absence of a reference to the exchange programme for lecturers on a North/South basis. The absence is explained by the fact that we are now working on a more comprehensive package of activities in further and higher education on a North/South basis, details of which I will bring forward. Those details will include reference to programmes where lecturers from colleges on both sides of the border will be able to participate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on my Department’s actions as set out in the Programme for Government. As I have said before, meeting social and economic need lies at the core of my Department’s programme. Since the draft programme was presented to the Assembly in October, we have sought to strengthen our commitments in the document to New TSN, as well as our commitments to ensuring that public sector resources are used for the purposes intended. I am grateful to all those, including the Committee for Social Development, who contributed to the consultation process.
Within the priority of "Growing as a Community", my Department will work for the renewal of the most disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods, bringing new life into our towns and cities. We will identify and target those areas that have become the most deprived. We will develop and deliver a co-ordinated response to the needs of those areas on a partnership basis with the community and private sectors. We will also work to improve the physical environment of towns and cities, with a particular focus on urban centres. While a number of existing urban programmes will continue, I intend to bring forward new strategies in support of urban regeneration. These will range from an overarching policy context to particular geographical strategies, relevant European programmes, and policy aimed at reinvigorating town centres. The primary focus will, however, be on disadvantaged urban communities through the establishment of neighbourhood regeneration task forces.
My Department recognises the strength and vibrancy of our voluntary and community sectors and the contribution they make to social and economic regeneration. Action will be taken to develop community infrastructure in the most disadvantaged areas and where it is weakest.
Specific actions as set out in the Programme for Government will ensure that not only are there specific, targeted programmes of support, but that there are coherent strategies within the Government for the support and funding of the voluntary and community sectors.
In contributing to the priority of securing a competitive economy, Members will be aware that I have introduced new legislation on street trading. This piece of legislation has passed its Final Stage in the Assembly and is awaiting Royal Assent.
I now turn to housing. I have said before, and I make no apology for saying it again, that a decent home is a basic right rather than a privilege. My housing priorities within the Programme for Government recognise that poor housing is a contributory factor to social exclusion, and seek to address the problem across a wide front.
I aim to reduce unfitness levels, especially in rural areas where the problem is greatest. We have a good track record in reducing housing unfitness, and it is important that this continues. I intend to ensure that existing public sector housing is properly maintained. Housing is a valuable asset, and we have a responsibility to ensure that we look after it and do not allow it to deteriorate through neglect or inadequate funding.
I will also ensure that sufficient new houses are built for those unable to buy and that their rents remain affordable. High rents can prove a disincentive for those who want to work, and, as I have done this year, we must keep rent increases to an absolute minimum.
I aim to examine new ways of enabling those on low incomes to get access to the housing market — particularly for first-time buyers. House prices in Northern Ireland have increased dramatically, and I am concerned about the problem that this creates for young people and those who want to move from rented accommodation to owner occupation.
I intend to ensure that the new build programme makes proper provision for special needs accommodation to cater for those vulnerable people who need assistance. I also plan to introduce a new Housing Bill, which will bring forward a raft of new measures designed to improve housing in Northern Ireland. By way of an example, included in this Bill will be new provisions for dealing with anti-social behaviour, measures that I am sure all Members will welcome.
It is estimated that approximately 600 people die each year in Northern Ireland because they live in cold, badly insulated houses, which they cannot afford to heat properly. That this should be happening in the twenty-first century is a total scandal. Therefore I am proposing to tackle this problem by introducing a new energy efficiency scheme. This will come into operation on 1 April and will provide a comprehensive range of energy-efficiency measures to the most vulnerable groups in society from 1 July onwards.
My objective for housing is therefore to ensure that affordable, fit, energy-efficient homes are available to those on low incomes. My Department and its agencies touch the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland at one stage or another — from childhood, through our working lifetimes and in times of sickness and retirement.
The social security, child support and pension schemes bring support to every individual and household in Northern Ireland at some stage and play a key role in our drive to combat poverty, particularly where it affects children.
We often provide the sole means of support for some of the most vulnerable groups of people. Therefore, it is essential that we seek to identify and meet the needs of our customers, continuously improving all we do. It is also essential that they understand their rights; have ready information about the various services provided; know how to get access to them and where to go or whom to speak to when they need assistance; are given the right support at the right time; and that they are treated with understanding and dignity.
Poverty has blighted the lives of individuals and whole communities for too long. As a key part of my Department’s plans in the Programme for Government, we are committed to tackling both its causes and its effects.
Our policies and actions will focus on activities to address deprivation. We will ensure that housing and social security work alongside education and training programmes to ensure that actions to meet the needs of our community are properly co-ordinated. We will work with others in the Government to combat unemployment and differentials in employment rates.
I am committed to the modernisation of social welfare, promoting social inclusion, tackling fraud and error and putting work at the heart of the system. I also fully recognise our responsibility to ensure a reasonable standard of living for those who cannot support themselves. My Department and I are committed to providing a fair system of financial help for those in need.
We will work to modernise the delivery of social security benefits and provide a high quality, social security service as set out in my Department’s public service agreements.
We will seek to improve the service given to all customers by implementing a programme of action plans to improve the delivery of social security services to the disabled, older people, people with literacy problems, people living in isolated and deprived areas, those affected by the conflict and those belonging to minority ethnic groups. We will start to bring the tax and benefit systems together for pensioners and provide more help for those who need it.
In conclusion, my Department will work vigorously to tackle disadvantage where it occurs and to strengthen communities, particularly for those living in the most disadvantaged and deprived areas.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Is cóir go dtugtar áit do thosaíocht ‘Ag Obair ar mhaithe le Pobal níos Sláintiúla’ sa Chlár do Rialtas ós cuspóir don Chlár "difear a dhéanamh" trí "oibriú i gcomhar le chéile trasna Ranna agus gníomhaireacthaí." Caithfimid oibriú i gcomhar le chéile má táimid le dul i ngleic le cuid de na fadhbanna sláinte is daingne atá againn agus le deis a thabhairt do chách togha na sláinte a bheith acu. B’fhéidir gurb eol do Chomhaltaí go bhfuil mé i mo chathaoirleach ar an Ghrúpa Aireachta ar an tSláinte Phoiblí. Cuimsíonn seo iomlán na Ranna, nó tá foinsí na sláinte agus an leasa sóisialta, eacnamaíoch agus timpeallachtach chomh maith le pearsanta agus cliniciúil.
Ar ndóigh, ní ar chúram an Rialtais amháin atá seo: tá fachtóirí pearsanta tábhachtacha sa siúl, agus caithfimid ár ndícheall a dhéanamh ar fud na sochaí. Aithníonn ‘Ag Infheistiú don tSláinte’, ar toradh é ar chomhchainteanna an Ghrúpa Aireachta, go bhfuil teorainn ar an mhéid a thig le gníomhaireachtaí poiblí a dhéanamh agus guíonn sé ar chách oibriú ar son na tosaíochta seo. Caithfidh an cur chuige bheith cuimsitheach má tá le héirí leis ár gcaighdeáin sláinte agus leasa a ardú go dtí sin ár gcomharsan Eorpach.
It is particularly fitting that the priority of ‘Working for a Healthier People’ should find a place in the Programme for Government because the programme’s purpose is to make a difference by working together across Departments and agencies. It is essential that we work together if we are to tackle some of the most deep-seated health problems and give everyone a fair chance of better health. Members may know that I chair the ministerial group on public health. This comprises all Departments because the upstream sources of health and well-being are social, economic and environmental, as well personal and clinical.
Of course, it is not just a matter for the Government to deal with. There are important personal factors at work. We must also mobilise efforts across the whole of society. ‘Investing for Health’ — the product of the ministerial group’s joint deliberations — recognises that there are limitations to what public agencies can do and calls on everyone to work to make this a priority. This approach must be inclusive if it is to succeed and bring our standards of health and well-being up to those of our European neighbours.
Until the consultation on ‘Investing for Health’ is complete, the Programme for Government cannot offer detailed, measurable targets for improving health and well-being. There are other aspects of my Department’s contribution to the programme, in particular, the public service agreement (PSA), that require development. Some of these are partly technical — for example, the desirability of having milestones for some of the more distant targets. In some cases, such as the reduction in waiting lists, we have been able to set meaningful, intermediate targets. I would also like to see a greater emphasis on the output rather than the input of each investment.
The Programme for Government and the PSA aim to explain how health and social services will provide better and more accessible care over the next three years. The commitments that we are now entering into take account of the numerous suggestions received since we began to draft our contribution.
As we all know, the clinical dimension of health and social care costs a lot of money. I inherited a health and personal social services budget of £2 billion, but that has not been adequate to deliver the kind of effective and accessible service that we wish for the public. Mr McGrady asked about the costing of developments that would follow the reviews of the ambulance and maternity services in Belfast and especially the review of acute hospitals. The key point is that all the commitments in the Programme for Government and the public service agreement have been costed to the best of our ability. We have given undertakings only where we feel that it is possible to deliver.
In fact, the outcome of the acute hospitals review is a good example of that. The target is to develop a fully articulated implementation plan by December 2002. The target date was carefully chosen. It reflects not only the time required to examine the review’s recommendations, assess its quality impact, consult and draw up a rigorous business case, but also the fact that the 2002 spending review will give us the opportunity to bid for the necessary funds.
The same applies to the Ambulance Service, where it is the Health Department’s commitment to begin the implementation of an investment programme targeted initially at essential fleet replacement by the autumn. The health budget allows for that. However, the full implementation of the review’s recommendations will be dependent on more money’s being available.
Health and personal social services are contending with the legacy of years of underfunding, and those inherited problems will not be solved at a stroke. It was due to the scale of those difficulties that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s spending review bids amounted to £274 million, a sum that represented a realistic assessment of what would be needed to meet next year’s challenges. Even though the budget addition of £161 million is a lot of money, it will not enable the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to match the radical programme for action that is, for instance, set out in the public service agreement for the NHS in England.
In allocating the budget my priority was the maintenance next year of this year’s level of service. Having done so I am left with £41 million and some difficult choices. In deciding where to allocate the money I have listened to the views of representatives from the wider health and social services bodies, members of the public, representatives from community and voluntary groups, public representatives and, in particular, the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety. There is more to be done, and more resources are required.
Many Members share the view that the Health Service here is underfunded given its needs. I agree that unless the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety receives more money through the Barnett formula it will be difficult to generate the sort of improvements that the health and personal social services and the public are crying out for.
Mr McGrady and Dr Paisley criticised the level of community care provision. I have stated publicly that community care has been underfunded, and that continues to create difficulties. However, it is hoped that the allocations for next year and the targets in the Programme for Government will make some improvements.
Robert McCartney asked about my decision on maternity services. In making that decision my sole focus was on the welfare of women, including mothers, and babies. I well understand the importance of getting that decision right. I refer the Member to my remarks in the House on 30 January.
Patricia Lewsley asked about child protection and co-operation with the Department of Health and Children. Some of the work being done in that regard will be done on the North/South Ministerial Council in which we work with our colleagues in education. It is important that nothing interferes with the activity of the North/South Ministerial Council or its work.
The new social care council to be established in October will, for the first time, regulate the strong social care workforce. It will also help to achieve the child protection aims of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
The problem that the Alliance Party has with the Programme for Government lies not so much with what it says but rather with what it does not say. In many respects the Programme for Government suffers from one large capital sin — the sin of omission.
It is essential that any programme, structure or plan is based on a solid foundation. It must have that strength and demonstrate that strength. If the foundation to that structure, plan or programme is weak, that weakness will permeate throughout it and weaken its implementation and application.
The Alliance Party is a fervent supporter of the Good Friday Agreement. It believes in devolution and its members were delighted to share in the joy of the many people in Northern Ireland who voted by an overwhelming majority in support of it.
The Alliance Party wants to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That can only be done by a firm, strong and cohesive Executive whose leadership permeates the Assembly. The people of Northern Ireland voted for a new beginning. They wanted to see change.
They wanted to see changes in health, education, infrastructure and in how farmers are treated, et cetera. However, more fundamentally than that the people wanted to see changes in society.
This is a divided society. The people did not want a change that simply plastered over those divisions, but one that dealt with them at root and branch. They wanted to see an end to tribalism. They wanted to see an end to sectarianism, to bigotry and to the hatred that has riven this society. They wanted an end to the violence, the bombing, the destruction, the gangsterism and the thuggery. Do they have that? They wanted to see the new beginning, and they wanted to see the new day dawning. They wanted to see action taken to eradicate the ills of the past.
The people have been disappointed. They do not see this operating through their Executive. People tell me that they are getting a bad example from their Executive, because they are still riven by this tribalism. The Executive, to a large degree, are still putting party before country. They are fighting the battles of yesterday rather than acting as a cohesive group to try to eradicate the problems of Northern Ireland, namely sectarianism and tribalism. The parties in the Executive, with one exception, promised to work in good faith to resolve their political difficulties, but all we see is bad faith and political point scoring. That bad example rubs off onto the Floor of the House, and it also rubs off onto society in general, which the Executive claim to lead.
The Programme for Government does very little to try to deal with the real problems, because they are rooted in the Executive. In many respects the parties in the Executive have a vested interest in maintaining that type of tribalism. To attempt, Pilate-like, to wash our hands of those real problems which confront society and say that they are security-orientated is to try to bury one’s head in the sand. We must confront these problems and deal with them. The Executive should take the lead in that.
The political parties make up the Executive have a duty to resolve the policing issue. They have a duty to resolve the arms issue. They have a duty to demonstrate their preparedness to move forward that extra inch, that extra centimetre, to enable us to have the new beginning that the people seek. It appears that some, if not all, the parties in the Executive are prepared to sacrifice all that is in the Programme for Government rather than move another inch. As for the other party that is not in the Executive, or that is in the Executive but wants to remain semi-detached —
My mind is made up; my mind is crystal clear.
The party to my left claims all the advantages of having Ministers. In fact, just a few minutes ago they were pronouncing what they were doing with their respective portfolios, but at the same time they act like the real Judases in betraying their fellow Members of the Executive —
I am not angry. I am glad that the Member prefers a lower tone.
At every turn they betray their fellow Members. Are they Judases, or are they Januses? They look both ways at the same time. They want to claim the benefits but deny any part of it. This is extremely strange, but it is also rubbing off onto this society.
This society must deal with the tribalism. Is there anything in the Programme for Government that deals with the plastering of our kerb stones and our gable walls with sectarian murals? Is there anything about the roadsides being painted red, white and blue or green, white and gold? Is there anything about flags flying with disrespect to both the Union Jack and the tricolour? Where does the Programme for Government deal with that? The Executive omit to include these issues in the Programme for Government, because they cannot deal with them. That very tribalism rives the Executive — that is the fundamental flaw.
I have some concern about today’s debate on the Programme for Government. I am amazed to find that the Ministers are making statements at this stage. When the draft programme was introduced, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister could have introduced some of these points on behalf of all of the Executive and left more time for Members to debate today what is or is not in this programme. Having said that, and in relation to the three themes of justice, inclusion and cohesion, it would be good if politicians and parties in Government could lead from the front — I concur with the Member from the Alliance Party, Mr Close, on that.
I do not think that it is enough, in the Programme for Government, to ask trade unions, employers and schools to combat sectarianism and challenge exclusion if they do not see that examplebeing set by the Government. It is disappointing to see that, to date, they have not pulled together in a cohesive and inclusive fashion.
On that point, is it the intention of the Executive to make a submission on the Bill of Rights consultation based on the principles of justice, inclusion and cohesion, because the current Programme for Government does not cover that point?
I have some reservations about the Deputy First Minister’s comments this morning on his reservations about everybody else’s reservations. I would like to see what he intends to do in relation to the principle that was applied when people signed the agreement. I believe that authorship is ownership, and that principle, to date, has fallen apart.
I welcome the programme’s objectives, although I find that the delivery mechanisms need much greater clarification. It is not enough for us to read that the Government will attempt to progressively eliminate the backlog of EC Directives to be implemented, or, indeed, the backlog of planning applications. I note that a date has been set for planning applications of 2002, but that is cold comfort for those who are waiting to hear the outcome of many of these planning applications. However, I suggest to the Government that it is illegal to make such a statement — that they will work to eliminate the backlog of EC Directives to be implemented. It is a statutory obligation to implement EC Directives, not to work progressively to eliminate any backlog.
I am concerned about the compartmentalised approach to some of the policy issues in this document. There has been a missed opportunity here to have a regional anti-poverty strategy. Perhaps the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will respond by saying that the entire programme is an anti-poverty strategy. However, here was an occasion where we in Northern Ireland could have highlighted how far behind we have fallen in issues such as illiteracy and other issues of social exclusion, such as basic education principles and child poverty.
I have asked the Minister for Social Development if he knows how many children are living below the poverty line in Northern Ireland, and his answer was that he does not. We do not have the basic research data to combat some of these poverty issues, yet we have that information in respect of Scotland, England and Wales. How can we base a Programme for Government on something for which we have no data? We do not know what we are trying to challenge and combat in the future?
Because of the lack of resources, too many of our policy initiatives and pieces of legislation have had to focus on child protection rather than on the prevention of many of the problems that we should have been dealing with. All of that could have been incorporated into a Government strategy on anti-poverty.
I also have concerns about the number of strategies. I hope that we meet our deadlines, but I wonder what will happen if the public service agreement deadlines are not met. I know that we will not meet the December deadline on the 10 new beds for adolescent and mental healthcare. With the best will in the world, the Minister will not meet that deadline, because the nurses have not been trained and there are no places in which to put those beds. That is just one example of a target that will not be met. I could mention more, but I do not have enough time.
Will there be sanctions, or do the Government intend to have an annual review? Will they be honest enough to return in a year’s time and say that they have had to tear up some of the strategies, as happened with the health strategy for 1997-2002? The Minister was honest enough to say that that was no longer relevant. Will the Government come back next year and tell us that they have not been able to meet the targets and let us know what they intend to do to address that inadequacy?
I am still concerned about the private finance initiatives. When we debated the draft Programme, I asked whether it was the intention of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to seek private finance if they did not have the resources in house. If that is the case, it is only fair that the Assembly should have an honest and transparent answer. Which initiatives will be sponsored by private finance? What are the dates of those initiatives? I hope that we never again have the Audit Office reporting that £450,000 went down the drain because a project went out to tender for private finance, even though planning permission had not been sought.
It is time that we had decent policy outcomes, timetables and targets that we can debate properly. We have fallen far short of that. I am pleased to see that, since the draft programme was published, there are initiatives such as the Civil Service review of senior positions and legislation on disability and housing. I would like to have seen the resources for those initiatives; they were not in any Budget figures that I saw. I would like to see how much money it will take to produce those Bills.
I am still concerned about one principle that we fought for in the Belfast Agreement — the advancement of women in public life. I see no resources attached to that and every Department continues to pay lip-service to it. People in Northern Ireland should be able to share in some of the fruits of our move from conflict to democracy. I commend the Government for their attempt to produce our first Programme for Government, although it falls far short of the principles set out in its introduction.
I support the Programme for Government, but I draw Members’ attention to some important issues that are either not included or are not specifically referred to.
I welcome the grants that will be made available for 7,500 houses in the next year. However, there is no indication from the Department for Social Development or the Minister that anything will be done about the invidious use of closing orders. I have asked for that issue to be tackled before. Closing orders are part of a petty exercise engaged in by the Housing Executive when some applicants apply for replacement grants. People are informed that their application has been refused and that they are barred from reapplying. Then they are informed that they are occupying their home illegally, even though the situation has come about through no fault of their own.
This is an absurdity, especially in a county such as Fermanagh, where there is a 17.5% housing unfitness rate. I call on the Minister for that Department to tackle this serious issue rather than to shy away from it and to have all cases affected by closing orders reviewed. If the Minister does not do this, I will expect the Executive to take overall responsibility and do something about it. In this paper they tell us
"We will work to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access decent, affordable housing in the tenure of their choice".
That aim, worthy as it is, will not be realised for those people unless and until the closing orders are urgently reviewed.
I want to move on to the subject of the Department of Education. The Executive expressed the sentiment that they aim to promote the concept of citizenship amongst children and young people, yet under the Department of Education’s public service agreement, there is little indication as to how this will be achieved. There has been much discussion about how knowledge and skills are to be imparted to our young people, however there has been little mention about how the important values in education are to be transmitted. The promotion of citizenship is — as the Executive claim — a worthy ideal, especially for this society, which is emerging from a conflict situation into a stable and peaceful one. The promotion of citizenship amongst our young people will be essential if peace is to become firmly embedded in this society. We all yearn for a just, cohesive and inclusive society, but for this to be realised, there will have to be a great deal of work done on a long-term basis. Nevertheless, all children need to be prepared for it from an early age.
Education must play a central role in the concept of citizenship if our young people are to develop their capacity to be active citizens and participators in society throughout their lives. Therefore, a firm commitment in the Programme for Government is needed by the Department responsible to introducing education for citizenship as a compulsory part of the curriculum in all of our schools.
The instability that dogged this society for far too long produced an environment where human rights on all sides were constantly violated. In future, we hope that we will resolve our differences through democratic means. However, if democracy is to be real and meaningful for society in the future, our education system should lead the way in educating our children about their rights, their responsibilities and the rights of others. So far, the curriculum has been underpinned by values through the delivery of cross-curricular themes and programmes of study. We must now place values such as equality, justice and human rights at the centre of the curriculum. That is the best way to strengthen the capacity for all of our citizens to resolve conflicts in the future by democratic means. This will ensure that a just and peaceful society, for which we all yearn, becomes a reality.
Regarding the issue of jobs, I welcome the measures aimed at improving local businesses and attracting inward investment. One measure to achieve economic improvement in the more deprived areas could be the decentralisation of government jobs. I am glad to see that this is now recognised in the Programme for Government, and I hope that that initiative will progress. I look forward to the day when a constituency such as Fermanagh and South Tyrone will benefit from the decentralization of Civil Service jobs.
That constituency and others have been affected by the differences between sterling and the Irish punt. It is one of those that will be hardest hit if the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s aggregate tax is implemented after 2002. One thousand jobs in that sector will be threatened, and there is concern in the quarrying industry. Everyone in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency and beyond — and, I am sure, everyone here — will want the Executive to mount a strenuous effort to resist the implementation of the aggregate tax in Northern Ireland.
I want to use my ration, as it were, of seven minutes to concentrate on the public service agreements (PSAs) and to welcome those as an attempt to make Government more measurable. The Civic Forum commended that aim in its recent report on the Programme for Government.
My welcome is qualified by four points. The first relates to my own Committee’s response to the PSAs in the area of the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment. We were pleased to see that in most cases the Department incorporated some of our concerns. Those perhaps were not so much to do with the content of the PSAs, but rather with the clarity of their presentation.
A second point relates to the number of PSAs, and particularly PSA targets, in the programme. There is a fine balance here — on one hand there is a need to avoid having too many targets, and on the other, there is a risk of having too few for good government. It is of note that when PSAs were introduced in Whitehall there were some 600 targets. In 2000 that number was reduced to only 200. It is perhaps significant that in the Programme for Government there are 249. Are we going over the top in respect of numerical targets?
A third point is the crucial question of the level at which those targets are set. Once again there is a basic dilemma. It might be possible to set them far too high; in other words, at an unrealistic level. That would be a case of putting the Government on the track of "mission impossible". Let me illustrate this point by one historical example, concerning someone who perhaps would not be much loved in some quarters of this House. In 1963 no less a person than Terence O’Neill stated that he thought that in 46 years Northern Ireland would achieve the same level of economic output and social standard of living as Great Britain; in other words, that that would be achieved by the year 2009. That is only eight years away, and currently our level of gross domestic product per capita is only approximately 80% of the UK average. The recent Strategy 2010 document sets a target of 90% for the year 2010. Most experts feel that that level is unrealistically high. There is a sense that the target set by O’Neill in the 1960s was far too high.
However, if targets are set at too low a level, we are in danger of becoming complacent. We might fall into the same trap that affected planning in the old Soviet Union. Under Stalin’s five-year plans targets were often set in such a way that the goals had already been achieved. There was a very good reason for that. The labour camps in Siberia, or perhaps worse, threatened those perceived as failures. However, I really doubt if our two junior Ministers are the Berias of this Executive. Time will tell.
That was a very amusing comment, as always, from Mr Wilson.
Time will tell if the levels at which the PSAs have been set are correct. That would be easier to judge if the document contained more information about the UK average performance and, indeed, what was happening in the rest of the world. In some respects this is an insular document. We are not being told what is going on in other parts of the UK, the European Union or the United States.
I am pleased that the document puts emphasis on cross-cutting at its heart. That is very valuable. As time is short I will give one example. I would like to see more on the crucial issue of research and development. We have already had speeches about how we must grow our economy. Ultimately, we must create resources rather than run to the Treasury in London, constantly appealing for more money.
I would like to see a target in either section, or in both, relating to the Departments of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment and Enterprise, Trade and Investment, on raising the percentage level of research and development relative to the gross domestic product. That was focused on in a recent Northern Ireland Economic Council report.
I am attempting to bring some constructive criticism to the matter so I am supporting the motion and rejecting the amendment. The PSA concept is good even if, inevitably, it has been somewhat flawed in its first application in the Province.
Let me respond to Dr Paisley’s criticism of the quality of paper in the document. As a teacher, I noted that sometimes it was the weakest students who put the greatest care into the quality of their presentation, to cover up poor content. If it is so in this case, that is a good sign, not a bad one.
I commend some of the targets mentioned earlier — raising school standards, pushing Northern Ireland ahead in e-commerce, and reducing the terrible toll of casualties on our roads.
To sum up, the Programme for Government is not a return to the past. It is only superficially similar to the type of planning popular in Northern Ireland 35 years ago — for example, the Wilson report and others of the mid-1960s. Today, we have more realistic targets, because they are more attainable.
For too long, Northern Ireland has languished at the bottom of so many league tables, be it public health or in aspects of the environment. We should aim to change that situation and put Northern Ireland at the top of performance league tables, not just within the UK but in some cases in the rest of the world.
It is a good start. The PSAs can and should be improved as they have been in Whitehall.
We have had an interesting debate. It has been toing and froing. Some people think they are in, some think they are out; and some are not sure whether they are in or out.
A few moments ago we listened to remarks about the quality of paper in the Programme for Government document. The quality of the paper probably sums up what is on the paper and therefore the quality would be sufficient for the contents.
The debate has been strong in rhetoric. Rhetoric has been substituted for content because the content is not very good. We have listened to homilies and generalities, many of which came from members of the Executive.
We had the introduction by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but sadly, after they had made their comments, they were so concerned about what the Assembly had to say that they left the Chamber and have not returned. Actually, the First Minister did come in to speak to someone from his party on the back Benches for about two minutes and then went out through the door again. His return was not for the content of the debate.
No one from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister who is also from the SDLP has been here. The Deputy First Minister’s junior Minister is not here. With the greatest respect, Mr Nesbitt has been sitting in on the debate, and Mr Haughey is usually evident at his side, but to the best of my knowledge Mr Haughey is not in his place nor has he been during the debate. Again, this epitomises their interest in what Members have to say. What we had earlier was simply a homily, and when that homily was given —
Therefore, because the Member’s Colleague did not have the opportunity to speak, he does not bother coming here. It shows exactly what they really believe and want to hear from Members. I thank the hon Member — it was not a point of order, but his information was very helpful. It proves that unless they have the opportunity of standing at a little dispatch box looking important, they do not want to come, because they are not interested in any part of the debate. I thank Mr Nesbitt for his very helpful and useful intervention.
We listened very carefully to Mr Neeson and Mr Close, who spoke on behalf of the Alliance Party. We noticed the tenor of Mr Close’s voice when he was trying to smack the various parties of the Executive over the knuckles. He was speaking to the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Féin. He tried his best to rap them nicely over the knuckles, but you saw the hump appear on his back when it came to the DUP. Somehow it seems that this little moderate party loses its moderate and liberal image when it comes to the Democratic Unionist Party.
However, what he said was interesting. He said that the Executive, which is made up of the three parties which he was rapping over the knuckles, was riven with sectarianism. Was he referring to Mr Trimble, his party representative, the SDLP or Sinn Féin?
Ms McWilliams said that she had reservations about the Deputy First Minister’s reservations about everybody else’s reservations. I must be honest and say that after listening to Ms McWilliams’s speech, I have reservations about what she said also. We are having a wonderful party time here today. It is really disgraceful when we get to such a situation in such an important debate. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should have treated the Assembly properly and with the dignity it deserves.
There are very important issues, which ought to be placed on the record. In relation to the Department of the Environment, we have this statement about protecting the environment:
"We also appreciate the importance of protecting and, where possible, enhancing the environment. A good quality built and natural environment is also the key to our economy, helping for example to attract investors and visitors as well as being integral to the future of agriculture."
That is lovely verbiage. To find out what it really means you would have to call on Mr Ervine who usually explains such words. You have to ask what the real importance of it is. Does it mean that investors and visitors are the most important concerns in relation to the environment? I suggest that the environment is important to the people who live here — the ordinary people in this society. In this document there is nothing about third-party appeals for people who are aggrieved and feel that the Department of the Environment is forcing its will upon a local community. This was mentioned in relation to Kircubbin. I genuinely feel that this is very important. We must think of the people, whether they are citizens in Antrim concerned about the Deerpark Hotel, or those concerned about the overdevelopment of a site at Manse Road. These are important issues to individual people. The rights of the individual are of equal importance to those of the investor.
Waste management and council support are mentioned. It would be better if the Department had worked in partnership with the councils from the outset rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how they develop their plans. It is essential to work with councils to achieve the best possible waste management strategy for particular areas. Whether it is Cottonmount, Green Road in Ballyclare or Ladyhill, we need transparency. People have a right to know what is happening.
What is going on in our hospitals? They are full to capacity and patients are lying on trolleys. The Health Service is in chaos.
This document is plenteous in verbiage but offers nothing that will truly affect the lives of my constituents.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I speak on behalf of myself and my party. In moving forward and recognising a new beginning, I am hopeful that the Programme for Government will give us the best opportunity to open up avenues that this part of the island has been deprived of for years.
I would like to see further resources being provided by the Programme for Government. My concern is that not enough focus has been placed on the delivery of a waste management strategy. I would like to put on record that in the debate on zero waste which we had in this Chamber I was disappointed, but not surprised, that there was no support from the parties in the House. Support would have meant that the Minister of the Environment and the Executive are giving more attention to zero waste in their Programme for Government. After all, this is a key issue that should have been better addressed in order to improve the lives of all the people of this island. It is crucial to deal with the issue of waste management on an all-Ireland basis. I am disappointed that the Programme for Government does not reflect the views of my party on this.
I recognise the funding increases that the Budget allocates to the environment, testimony to the priority that it has been given by the Executive. It is now up to the Minister, Sam Foster, to control this funding increase and to spend it wisely. Matters of great concern are: planning; waste; roads; water pollution; delivery of a waste management strategy; completion of the all-area plan by 2006; a reduction in road casualties by 2010; a review of the equality scheme in 2005; and a review of the work on time, change and sustainability of the diversification strategy.
I am disappointed that the Minister has not paid attention to the problem of school buses. There will be a serious tragedy. In rural areas in particular, the Department does not look after the roads properly in winter under conditions of ice, snow and frost. It ignores the fact that children have to travel along these roads in cars and overcrowded buses. No provision is made for the safety of children travelling to and from schools. Yet targets are set for driving improvement courses and practical child pedestrian safety training, et cetera, which do not deal with the problems I have highlighted that are crying out to be addressed.
On the completion of the area plan to provide land use planning, which balanced the development needs of the region with environmental protection and targeted the elimination of the planning applications backlog, I have to agree with Ms McWilliams’s statement that it should be an obligation to review the scheme of planning policy development and development control.
On development control, I would like to have seen priority given to the telephone masts that litter our countryside. Given concerns over public health, with masts near homes, schools and hospitals, the Minister must get together with other Departments to alleviate the problems telephone masts present, and they must work together to promote the health of our people. Go raibh maith agat.
I commend the Programme for Government and its commitment to human rights, linguistic rights and cultural diversity. One has only to trawl the local press to see how Ulster-Scots bashing has become perhaps the only respectable form of racism left in western Europe.
So that the Assembly is under no misapprehension about the means by which its commitment to equality is measured, I wish to reiterate the standards, expectations and aspirations that Ulster-Scots people have for our cultural rights.
The Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities considers that
" a pluralist and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity."
Further to that, the objective and standard laid down for any society defining itself as pluralistic and democratic, as we do, is exemplified in section II, article 4(2) of the convention. That commits those who subscribe to it to
"undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority."
Article 5(1) of the same protocol commits signatories
"to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage."
One of the key elements of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities concerns freedom from the threat of enforced assimilation. Under article 5(2), it is stated that those subscribing to the convention
"shall refrain from policies or practices aimed at assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities against their will and shall protect these persons from any action aimed at such assimilation."
That is an important element in the convention, which has special relevance to the circumstances in Ulster.
Frae oot o aw this, A maun hae it pitten doun in the skreived raicord sae as the Assemlie is in nae dout o the staundart that maun be uised for gaugin hou weill it haes wrocht for jonik anent oor fowk richts.
The Council o Europe’s Protocol Girdwark for the Beildin o Fowk Minorities hauds that a free an apen kintra, carefu o the richts o aw, maun tak respekfu tent o the fowk, kirk-gangin, heirskip an leid richts o awbodie that belangs an unner-leid o the kintra. An mair, the Govrenment maun mak strecht an aisie the pads o fendin an forderin, sae as thaim as wad can kythe apenlie thair ain hert’s fowk leid. For winnin ti siccan heich grund, indyte 2 o the protocol girdwark, airticle 4, pairt 2 gars thaim as unnerskreives the protocol ti
"tak on haund the daein o aw that is needit in ilka pairt o leevin, siller haundlin, fowk oncum an residenter haundlin, politics an fowkgates, for fu an wrocht-oot jonik aqueisht thaim as belangs the hert leid o a minoritie o fowk, an thaim belangin the maist fek."
Airticle 5 o thon protocol gars aw unnerskreivars
"forder the grund needit for thaim belangin a kintra’s minoritie fowk leid ti fend an forder thair ain fowkgates an gie beild til the things as bes at the founds o thair hert leid, ti pit a name on it, thair kirk, thair leid, thair heirskip an thair fowkgates."
Yin o the main things in the Protocol Girdwark for the Beildin o Fowk Minorities is adae wi freedom frae be-in gart faw in wi the leid o the maist fek. Unner airticle 5, indyte 2, ye hae it that thaim as unnerskreives
"ti the protocol maunna dae ocht or ettil at ocht that gars thaim belangin minoritie leids faw in wi the leid o the maist fek agin thair wull an maun beild sic yins frae onie daeins ettlin at siccan tak-ower".
This bes aye pairt o the protocol, that haes a guid whein ti say anent oor daeins here in Ulster.
I commend the study of the European Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (1994) to the Assembly. The Ulster-Scots community is not engaged in making excessive demands. We ask only that the principles of equality and fairness be applied to those indigenous inhabitants of Ulster, and that the requirement for equality extends beyond the broad principles and protocols that I have briefly set before the House. The requirement calls for an end to discriminatory practices and to unfairness and extends to all other areas of human life and experience, including the educational environment, where the Ulster-Scots language has been deeply discriminated against and marginalised.
The area of education is one in which the Ulster Scots community, particularly the Ulster-Scots language movement, calls for significant improvement. Historically, the Ulster-Scots language has suffered much greater discrimination and marginalisation than Irish Gaelic. That situation is no longer tenable or acceptable.
In particular, we are calling for a rapid expansion of facilities for Ulster-Scots in the field of education. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Oslo recommendations regarding the linguistic rights of national minorities, and the Hague recommendations requiring the educational rights of national minorities, together with the relevant United Nations documents, set out the standards of treatment and of development to which the Ulster-Scots community and the language lobby aspire. We recommend that a more culturally supportive environment should be developed in schools located in core Ulster-Scots areas, including specific recognition of the Ulster-Scots language. However, this Programme of Government has gone a long way in providing this for us.
I welcome the Programme for Government document, and I pay tribute to those officials and Ministers who have worked on it. Making a difference is the challenge faced by the Assembly in making devolved government a better system of managing our affairs on behalf of the people. The people across our entire community, whether Unionist or Nationalist, want to see real improvement and progress. They expect the Assembly to bring about tangible improvements. The people, rightly, want the devolved Administration to face up to its responsibilities and implement change. Obviously there is a major challenge for the Executive and the Assembly in this regard. Northern Ireland is a small region within the British Isles, and it is an even smaller region within the European Union.
I will endeavour to limit my contribution in this debate to the activities of the two Committees on which I serve — the Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee, with regard to education and training, and the Regional Development Committee, primarily concerned with physical infrastructure.
The Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment is essentially about developing the skills of our people so that the labour market, and the economy generally, can obtain capable and skilled workers. Further and higher education and skills training are vital areas for meeting the challenge for all of us in Northern Ireland. Employers need more people who have adaptable and competent skills to meet the needs of modern industry and commerce.
There is a need for a radical shake up of our skills training provision so that there will be good training opportunities that young people feel are worthwhile and which employers feel are of consistent quality. Skills training — as provided over the past ten years or more — is too short-term. It is less than good for our young people and, in particular, the long-term unemployed.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
It is essential that the Department and the Training and Employment Agency grasp the nettle of training and insist on a quality, relevant assessment approach to the range and type of training courses available. Skills shortages are becoming quite apparent in construction, engineering, electronics and computing. They are also apparent in the catering and hospitality industries.
Employers in those industries want to see real quality training schemes, not short-term training courses. Practical skills training must be appreciated and provided. New Deal, modern apprenticeships and Jobskills must be adjusted and revamped to meet our needs in Northern Ireland.
There must be more places in higher and further education so that our young people can make a real choice, and so that they do not have to go outside Northern Ireland at the age of 18 to be educated. I welcome the intention to have 850 more higher education places here and, in particular, the intention to have 2,500 further education places for skills needs areas. The student support package, aimed at the less well off, is sensible and helpful given the limit of public finance resources. The waiving of further education tuition fees for students aged over 19 in vocational areas is particularly welcome.
The Department for Regional Development is primarily involved with the provision and maintenance of our physical infrastructure — roads, railways, public transport and water and sewage services. The stark reality for all of us in Northern Ireland is that there has been severe neglect of capital investment in our physical infrastructure for almost 30 years. Indeed, our infrastructure is almost as weak as that in parts of Eastern Europe.
The biggest problem that we now have in regional development is the shortage of public finance to fund the major investment capital needs. It is an unfortunate fact that our economy is being prevented from growing and developing because of the bottlenecks that result from having inadequate roads and transport facilities. Too many of our roads are sub-standard. Even our short stretches of motorway and dual carriageway are unable to cope with road traffic congestion.
I want to see a special capital finance unit, within the Executive, tasked with addressing the finance needs of our capital investment requirements. I agree that there needs to be radical and resourceful thinking on how finance should be provided for those capital needs. Our economy needs expenditure on infrastructure sooner rather than later.
The Executive programme funds are a very welcome feature of the Programme for Government. These funds can help to redirect public sector performance to enable the private sector of the economy to perform more effectively and efficiently.
The public service agreements are vital to improving the performance of Departments. I am glad that all the Departments are facing up to the challenge of drawing up and implementing their own public service agreements. The public want to see Departments working better under devolved accountability and control.
Because Northern Ireland has such a large public sector, it is imperative that there be the best possible delivery of all our public services. The public service agreements are a bold attempt to get a handle on how the Civil Service — the permanent Government — carries out its functions under political control.
The primary challenge now is how we, through Government policy, can achieve a better regional economic performance and meet the public service needs of the people — be it through healthcare, education or the Water Service.
The Programme for Government is a good attempt to set parameters and to outline, from the start, necessary targets and objectives. This region, which is very public- sector dependent, must become more economically productive through the development of a more energetic and dynamic private-enterprise sector. We need more business activity — whether that be through more small and medium-sized enterprises or more inward investment projects.
The population is growing so it is imperative that more jobs be created to meet the employment needs of young people. On an economic level, the challenge is to create a more responsive and productive private sector and to create more businesses with more value-added production. This can only be done by stimulating and promoting a better spirit of enterprise and by valuing those attempting to set up businesses and, therefore, create jobs.
I will not be supporting the Programme for Government. This is an attempt to deceive — joined-up government does not exist. First, DUP Ministers did not participate in the Executive and are not part of the Government. Secondly, the IRA/Sinn Féin Ministers are taking the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to court, and, thirdly, the Ulster Unionists are refusing to nominate Ministers to the North/South Ministerial Council. The perception of joined-up government that the Programme of Government is trying to create is, therefore, deceitful. There are 11 Departments which operate individual fiefdoms and, to a great extent, those Departments operate independently within the Government.
The public service agreement of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is lightweight. It does not go into much depth on any subject. I draw Members’ attention to the fact that, although victims’ needs are mentioned on page 186 of the programme, there is no indication of a budget for support for them. Other Departments have indicated the amount of money allocated to fund the actions set out in each section. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has made no such indication of the budget for services for victims.
The modernisation of the Government is dealt with on page 183. Again, there is an empty box — the amount of money to be spent on this action is not indicated. How can we take action if we do not have the money to do so? These are not proposed actions; they are, in reality, mere aspirations.
The more I have heard about equality issues through the Committee, the less impressed I have been by the people who are delivering this service. Often, all we get is rhetoric — there is no delivery. We have a gender policy unit but when I asked representatives from it what they were doing about maternity leave, and whether they thought that it was fair that women should get just nine weeks’ full pay for maternity leave, they did not have an opinion. We have, therefore, a gender policy unit which is not looking at those issues. Many of the Departments that are supposed to deal with equality issues are not tackling them at all.
The proposal for a children’s commissioner is to be welcomed but it should be delivered soon and the issue should not be dragged out by a long process. There were a number of interesting elements in the chapter of the Programme for Government entitled "Working for a Healthier People". Among the priorities listed are
"modernising and improving hospital and primary care services to ensure more timely and effective care and treatment for patients".
That is a wonderful statement, but if you need a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, you will have to wait for two years. The waiting list for treatment in the renal unit is longer than it was this time last year. If you need thoracic surgery for cancer, you will find that your appointments for treatment will be cancelled again and again because there are not enough available post-surgery, intensive-care beds.
The document refers to the workforce shortage, yet fewer nurses in Northern Ireland are recognised for their work than in the rest of the United Kingdom. They work at lower grades than their counterparts in the rest of the UK, and they are not paid as much as they should be. Junior doctors are working excessive hours — the length of time they work is beyond the legal limit.
Page 146 features targets to increase the uptake rate for breast and cervical screening, yet there are no targets for the screening for cancers which affect men. The serious issues of prostate and testicular cancer have not been dealt with in the Programme for Government.
Strokes and smoking are mentioned on page 147. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety set the ludicrous target of March 2001 for reducing the number of strokes from 34 in every 100,000 to 27 in every 100,000. It is March 2001, and I wonder if the target has been met. Perhaps we could be told.
The Department wants to reduce the number of people who smoke and who take illicit drugs, but people who drink too much alcohol are not dealt with. It is not trendy to criticise the consumption of alcohol, but alcohol is the third largest killer in Northern Ireland. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety mentions the word "alcohol" once in its contribution to the Programme for Government; the misuse of drugs and smoking are mentioned several times.
The Minister of Education spoke about equal access. My constituency does not have equal access to nursery school places. We do not have as many nursery places as other areas. Why is that? It is because we are a Unionist constituency. We are discriminated against because the children happen to come from Protestant homes. The Minister of Education does not ensure that there is equal access for Protestant schoolchildren.
On page 42 the Minister addresses better GCSE results. GCSE results are better in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. Rather than put money into the resources that we have, the Minister wants to pull all that down and replace it with a new education structure, probably based on the English structure. We should not destroy the good elements of our education system because of the Minister’s aspirations. The Review Body on Post-Primary Education is due to report in June. That timescale is too short. The review body is not looking at the real issues. It is dealing with the 11-plus, which pupils sit in primary schools not post-primary schools. The review body is focusing on the wrong issues and it should be paying more attention to vocational skills.
Bullying and disruptive behaviour are dealt with on page 43. What about the Minister of Education? Bullying and disruptive behaviour have got him where he is today. It is a disgrace and is not a good example for our children.
I oppose the Programme for Government.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Today’s debate is reasonably historic. We are at the start of a journey that will address the democratic deficit that has existed since partition.
Sílim féin go bhfuil muid ag pointe stairiúil eile agus sinn ag plé an Chláir seo do Rialtas. Bhí easpa daonlathais sna sé chontae ó bunaíodh an stát agus tá easpa daonlathais sa stát seo go fóill. Tá súil agam, áfach, go bhfuil muid ar a laghad ag tús an bhóthair — nó b’fhéidir i lár an bhóthair fiú féin.
I welcome the Programme for Government and give it qualified support. Members, including that great advocate of equality, Edwin Poots, have said that the success of the programme will be measured by its impact on local communities. I have a number of questions about the Programme for Government. Will it help to redress the historical legacy of underinvestment in areas west of the Bann? I want a cross-departmental public service agreement from the Executive to redress that underinvestment. Does the programme facilitate growing North/South harmonisation as legislated for in the Good Friday Agreement? I agree with Esmond Birnie when he says that the document is insular in that regard. Does the Programme for Government treat all our children equally? Does it address the significant unemployment rate, particularly among Catholics? Last Thursday the Government’s Statistics and Research Agency report said that 8·8% of Catholics and 5% of Protestants are unemployed.
Of course, we want to eradicate unemployment, but there is still an alarming differential, which is institutionalised. Does it enable Irish-national citizens in the Six Counties to see a reflection of our Irishness in institutions, symbols and emblems, or does it seek to foist a Six-Counties identity on people who view the nine counties of Ulster as the Province and the thirty-two counties as the country?
Does it set out to put right the under-representation of Catholics in the Senior Civil Service? On page 16 we see that a review will be completed by autumn 2001 of the appointment and promotion procedures of the Senior Civil Service, with a view to tackling under-representation as quickly and effectively as possible. We look forward to that. Does it eradicate unfit housing and fuel poverty? Does it renew and extend the roads and rail infrastructure to the greater north-west — Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal? Does it equalise economic and social opportunities, and, crucially, health provision for rural areas? I have concerns about each and every one of these questions and will revisit them accordingly.
Generally, does the Programme for Government set out clear and measurable targets for the delivery of these objectives? Does it set out detailed implementation plans with specific timetables? Is it specific enough? Take, for example, the promise by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, on page 26, point 2.5.2, to make key information available by May 2001 in languages other than English. With the greatest of respect, the corporate plan did not do that — surely that is key information. The Minister does not respond in Irish to correspondence or queries that he receives in Irish. These things must be addressed. How is key information defined? I would like an answer. The Irish language section of the Programme for Government does not go anywhere near fulfilling the part of the Good Friday Agreement dedicated to this theme.
I am pleased to note specific targets for reducing the number of mobile classrooms within a certain timeframe. There could perhaps be a tighter timeframe and even more challenging targets. They are there as targets to be reached and judged accordingly. Targets for improving standards of literacy and numeracy could be greater in percentage terms, with more challenging timetables. However, we are moving in the right direction. I also welcome the cross-departmental consultation on the harm caused by smoking — by October 2001 a consultation exercise is to be undertaken and worked towards.
With regard to the day on the question "Does it make a difference?" raised in the introduction, only time will tell. Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir. The Executive needs the will to deliver equality, east-west, in the Six Counties. It needs to pour resources into areas of greatest social need and to have the relevant focus. To remind people of obligations to the all-Ireland dimension and equality in every aspect of public and private life, will anyone here object if I urge the Executive to go forward with the Programme for Government in one hand and the Good Friday Agreement in the other. Go raibh maith agat.
I give a broad welcome to the Programme for Government and endorse its provisions. It is evidence of the real, solid work that has taken place here at Stormont, something I feel the public does not adequately appreciate.
Having said that, I have certain concerns about the Programme for Government. The ideas that underpin the thinking about agriculture are essentially consumer driven. This is understandable and sensible. The agri-food industry will only thrive if it takes proper account of the consumer.
However, the crisis in agriculture today — following all the disasters which have befallen that industry — lies in the area of farm incomes. It does not primarily lie in the consumer area, where our reputation is already high. I know that this reputation needs to be maintained, but farm incomes are the real priority issue, and I am disappointed that the Programme for Government does not take proper account of that.
Measures on product quality, which are written large in the Programme for Government, have only the most indirect of impacts on the real point of crisis — farm incomes — which stand at only 20% of their 1995 level. The Programme for Government would have been a good opportunity for the Executive to signal its support for the agriculture industry — an industry which employs over 85,000 people and impacts on the lives of many more.
I cannot help but feel that in the light of subsequent events — particularly the current foot-and-mouth disease situation — the Executive could have readjusted its priorities away from the consumer towards the real crisis facing the producer in agriculture.
The Programme for Government, in paragraph 5.1.3, indicates that the Executive will seek
"to promote other sources of income generation in the rural economy".
However, this must be more specific. Rural development, as I have said before, is no bolt-on to the responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture; it is a very real lifeline to many farmers who are struggling to make ends meet. Supplementing farm incomes is not a marginal activity; it is a pressing necessity requiring immediate action.
I also ask for a clear definition of the process known as rural proofing. I want to know exactly what procedures are undertaken in that process. They should be transparent and detailed, not just simply a form of words. It is disappointing that there is to be no movement on a natural resource tourist programme until the end of 2001. I do not want to seem impatient, but there is a sense of urgency about this.
I cannot see how failure to move in this area and how the effective freeze on rural development spending is consistent with the objective of the Programme for Government, which is that there is a need to assist and to promote other sources of income for this generation, especially in the rural economy.
It also sits uneasily within the Annex C, paragraph 6.8, which is about the need to diversify local farming. Despite these reservations, I believe that the Ministers have done a reasonably good job in a short time. They have put in place a coherent and well thought out proposal to place before this House. I ask, however, that the concerns I have expressed as regards agriculture are taken on board for the next round of Executive spending.
Environmental issues are important and wide-ranging and cover many issues concerning the well-being and pollution-free environment we all desire. This big task must be addressed, and schemes must come forward with the ultimate aim of moving and protecting our rural way of life and developing an environment in which we can all be proud to play an important part.
Many areas have been missed out in the Programme for Government. I would like to draw Members’ attention to one aspect that we all miss from time to time — the horse-breeding industry in Northern Ireland. Looking back over the last year, all the top racehorses, showjumpers, flat-racing horses were all bred in Northern Ireland. Many of them were bred in my own constituency in Upper Bann. I do not want to name any of them just in case I leave somebody out, but that is a fact.
There is a real crisis at the moment with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Sheikh Mohammed, one of the world’s top racehorse owners, currently has some mares in Northern Ireland. Some of the world’s top stallions are in stud farms in the Province. This is a niche market for a niche product. Members can laugh, but it is a big part of the agriculture industry.
Several Members mentioned state aid yesterday. The untapped benefits that are available in Brussels are unbelievable. Mind you, the Junior Minister Mr Nesbitt should not think that a Back-Bencher such as myself knows nothing about state aid. I have studied state aid for the past three years. One of these days I am going to take you to task about it.
The Programme for Government is an amazing document. It is aspirational, but it is also inspirational. It is an affirmation that the Executive and Assembly are keeping faith with the people of Northern Ireland who strongly supported the Good Friday Agreement in the referendum.
The Programme for Government is the Good Friday Agreement in action. Therefore, it would be a betrayal and a tragedy if the actions of those who begrudge and wreck — inside and outside the Assembly — created a situation where the programme might be aborted or removed from the hands of those elected in Northern Ireland to serve Northern Ireland’s people. It would be equally disgraceful if the programme were to be put in jeopardy by the actions of certain Members who pay lip- service to the agreement, but whose agendas seem directed towards either self-preservation or self-promotion.
Having begun by praising the programme for the clarity of its vision and direction as expressed in paragraph 1.13 and elsewhere, I query its lack of detail in some areas. I will limit my input mainly to matters in the competence of the Department of the Environment, while acknowledging that there are many cross-cutting themes. If I do have some criticisms, I will try to be neither cross nor cutting.
In general, I warmly welcome the proposals relating to Department of the Environment matters. However, there are some questions of the "who, what, where, when and how" variety which need examination. I refer to just one — the future of local government. We are told that there will be a review of local government. There is going to be a comprehensive review of public administration, and as the song says "You can’t have one without the other".
I have been involved in local government for over 30 years — 24 of those years as a district councillor. I have never known such high levels of uncertainty regarding the future integrity of local government. There is widespread unhappiness. Councils are being bombarded with requirements to fulfil and deadlines to meet on a raft of complex and important issues, including best value, waste management strategies, Peace II programmes, equality and more — with local elections thrown in for good measure.
However, the most precise reference that I can find to the review of public administration is in paragraph 7.4:
"establish the Review of Public Administration in the coming months".
Some deadline: "in the coming months".
Local government needs a review, and the sooner the better. I hope the most significant outcome will not be the removal of the word "local", for if it is not that, it is not anything. I also hope most Members will agree that presumptions — particularly by some Members — that local government reform will entail a significant reduction in the number of local government districts is an unfortunate, if not irresponsible, pre-emption of the results of the local government review.
I will resist the temptation to quote at length from the more poetic statements about local government and will rely on the dry but true last sentence of paragraph 7.1.1:
"Local authorities have a knowledge of the needs of their areas and a capacity to ensure effective co-ordination and leadership."
The Good Friday Agreement was a beacon of hope to the long-suffering people of our country. The Programme for Government is the fuel that will keep that hope alive.
In the short time allotted I will present my remarks in the context of "Making a Difference". Will the Programme for Government make a difference? In some cases it will; in others the jury is still out; in yet others, despite the fine words, the Programme for Government will not make a difference.
I refer particularly to chapter 3 entitled "Working for a Healthier People", which states the Executive’s aims to improve public health, paragraph 3.1.3, entitled "Providing timely and effective treatment", and paragraph 3.1.4, entitled "Caring in the Community".
The Programme for Government says that there must be major improvements in the health of Northern Ireland’s people. If there is to be a timely and effective acute hospital service, resources must be available to support the delivery of such a service.
In Upper Bann, Craigavon Area Hospital has been expected to absorb an increased patient load. That was due firstly to the downgrading of Banbridge Hospital and recently because of the transfer of services from South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon.
As a result, Craigavon Area Hospital is under intense pressure because there appears to have been a deliberate attempt to transfer goods and services without transferring the commensurate funding. The outcome of such a policy is an adverse impact upon the delivery of services. Not only does it affect patients’ health, it also has a knock-on effect on the care regime in the community. On one extreme, it is claimed that patients are being pushed out of one hospital more quickly than they would be from another hospital. All too frequently staff in the community care sector are notified on a Friday afternoon of patient discharges and thus are given little opportunity to arrange appropriate care packages.
On the other hand, there are instances in which patients are being kept in hospital beds awaiting placement in residential or nursing homes because of a lack of funding by the community health trust. The community health trusts, due to lack of funding, are unable to purchase bed placements and that causes the bed blocking of acute beds further exacerbating the growing waiting lists.
The stress and strain on patients, carers, and on hospital and health trust staff is evidenced by the number of people on sick leave due to work-related stress. This situation is intolerable. If the Programme for Government is really going to make a difference, healthcare provision must be tackled in a meaningful way and must be adequately resourced by the Department of Finance and Personnel. It needs to be turned into a reality and should not be merely an aspiration.
I refer now to equity in service provision. Health and social care is a lottery. There is no uniformity in the same trust, never mind between trusts. Older people always lose out. They are exploited in that they are the least likely to complain and will normally make do with whatever inadequate support they receive. The service provided by the Craigavon and Banbridge Community Health and Social Services Trust is an example of that. If you are under 75 years of age and in the elderly programme of care you will be financially assessed for services. In contrast, if you are in the physically disabled programme of care the likelihood is that you will not be financially assessed. Where is the equity in the provision of service there?
There are also discrepancies in care-managed cases — for example, under the home-help service many older people have no weekend service suggesting, in some ridiculous way, that the needs of the elderly change on Saturday and Sunday compared with Monday to Friday. Making a difference for the elderly and the infirm now is an imperative, not an aspiration. Will the Programme for Government make a difference to the occupational therapy assessment waiting lists? Waiting lists of 18 to 24 months are totally unacceptable. Even in my constituency of Upper Bann, with a transfer of approximately 200 cases of heating assessment to the Housing Executive, there are still over 1,000 cases on the occupational therapy waiting list in the Craigavon and Banbridge Community Health and Social Services Trust area.
In spite of the fine words, the Programme for Government, with the associated budget resources, will not make the difference to the socially disadvantaged people to whom I have been referring — the infirm, the disabled and the elderly. In many instances those people will not have the time to wait on the realisation of aspirational objectives in the Programme for Government. My constituents and those across Northern Ireland expect and, indeed, demand immediate action to ensure that the inequalities of health and health care provision are tackled now and not by some visionary promise which may be realised some years down the line.
Go raibh maith agat. I support the Programme for Government as a vision for the future, but I have some concerns about public service agreements. Recently the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety submitted a document to the Health Committee — of which I am a member — called ‘Priorities for Action’. It seems to cut across into the public service agreements. In that document the need to consolidate services and financial stability is stated throughout the chapter entitled "Service Investment and Delivery Plans".
While I agree that there is a need to sustain existing services, there also needs to be a focus on the years of underfunding and mismanagement of the Health Service. There needs to be a focus on the years of no long-term strategic overview and the impact on other services. Several Members have mentioned the neglect or closure of hospitals and the impact that that has had on others. We have heard about the lack of proper funding for care in the community, which results in beds being held up, and about the years of inequality in the Health Service as a whole.
Recently we all witnessed the scandal of chief executives’ pay. In the public service agreement I welcome accountability for all expenditure in the Health Service. However, we are told that it will need legislation to tackle chief executives’ pay.
I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which also looked at that matter. The permanent secretary told the Committee that legislation is needed before the matter can be tackled properly. I call on the Minister to bring such legislation forward as soon as possible. We can all raise issues, but unless the legislation is put in place we can do nothing about them.
I welcome objective 1 in the public service agreement, which states that the Health Department is going to maximise the level of resources going into front-line care. I think that everyone is fed up with the level of administration in the health service and the number of different channels that elected representatives and patients have to go through before the service reaches the community and gets into the front line. I welcome the maximising of money to patient care and the minimising of money to administration.
The ministerial grouping on public health was mentioned earlier. It is a welcome feature. It was said that over 70% of health problems are not necessarily connected with the health Department. Other Ministers need to take that on board. The issues include the building and maintenance of proper housing that the Minister touched on earlier, educating people, especially our young on the issue of public health, providing play facilities, gritting roads and footpaths, and tackling the level of unemployment and low incomes. That is why I welcome the ministerial grouping on health.
I am concerned about the three-year period in which we have to implement the recommendations of the capitation formula, which has been included in the public service agreement. The period is too long. I agree that the present formula is flawed, but it must be changed now. I do not see why we should wait three years to implement the new formula. Once it is implemented it will go a long way towards tackling inequalities within the health service. Mr Carrick mentioned the level of different needs within each board — the elderly, for example.
While I welcome the target to increase the number of children being breastfed during the first three days of life, I am concerned that the target for numbers breastfed at six weeks is too small. We need to tackle that issue, and we can talk about ministerial groupings on public health, but unless we tackle the issue at an early age we are going to face problems. We should invest in community midwives and health visitors. Once mothers leave hospitals there is no follow-up on the need for them to continue breastfeeding.
We are informed that there will be an increase in the Sure Start Programme. While that programme covers children, I want to know if there will be additional money, or is this being used as a smokescreen because it is going into the family and childcare budget? We need to have one definition for children in need, because this seems to change across trust and board areas.
I welcome the proposal to issue new child protection guidelines and to introduce a Bill for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. It is an issue that comes up time and time again. I believe September is the deadline, and I welcome that.
I have a concern about something in the public service agreement concerning mental health. There is a target, which Ms McWilliams mentioned, to increase the number of child and adolescent psychiatric beds from six to 16 by December 2001. Recent figures, which I received from the Department in response to questions about children being admitted to adult psychiatric wards, showed that 103 children were admitted in the last 12 months, all under 17 years of age. The statistics are there for everyone to see. The increase of 10 beds will not make an impact when we are talking about 103 children this year.
I welcome the proposal to appoint a commissioner for children, but we need to take seriously these issues.
I am concerned that money allocated to boards and trusts will be attributed to the family and childcare budget. Will that be the case, or will it be allocated under mental health? The money would normally be allocated under family and childcare, but the document is telling us that it will be allocated under mental health. Including this additional money only hides the lack of investment in mental health programmes.
On page 151 we are informed that there is a target to take forward work in the North/South Ministerial Council giving priority to cancer research and health promotion. What is the present situation on that work due to David Trimble’s refusal to nominate the Minister for Health? What work or research has been put on hold due to this?
Where is that work at present, given the refusal of David Trimble to nominate the Minister for Health? What work or research has had to be put on hold because of that? What impact will his refusal to nominate have on our communities? Go raibh maith agat.
It has been interesting to hear Members who have party colleagues in the Executive ask in-depth questions about many aspects of the Programme for Government — indeed, some are totally against it.
The Belfast Agreement states:
"The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all."
That is what we in the Alliance Party have been fighting for — a fresh start, with reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust for everyone. The biggest problem facing Northern Ireland is the persistence of bitter sectarian division. Unless and until we begin to address that, we will not have the new beginning that the agreement identifies. Sadly, the Programme for Government fails to address the deep divisions in our society. The Deputy First Minister briefly mentioned our concerns, and I welcome that.
I shall identify some of the major deficiencies. Most of our people live in areas in which over 90% of the population is from one section of the community. Such segregation epitomises and reinforces division. If anything, the problems are getting worse, but there is no mention in the document of plans to promote mixed housing throughout Northern Ireland. To begin with, we must tackle the blight of paramilitary flags, sectarian emblems and graffiti. Such flags and clabbers of paint disfigure our neighbourhoods. Most people do not want them outside their door. Such things create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. They reinforce segregation and ought to be removed immediately.
The people who deface our environment should be encouraged to put their efforts into something more constructive. The Roads Service, the Housing Executive and other bodies wash their hands of the problem, despite their duty, under equality legislation, to provide a neutral environment. Such problems would not be tolerated in Great Britain or any other modern society. We expect the Executive to act. We need a cross-departmental response, which will help us to avoid the buck-passing that has so often characterised responses to the problem. We must not allow people to break the law and increase fear and tension. We must act. I am bitterly disappointed that the Executive have chosen not even to mention the problem in the Programme for Government.
Thirteen months ago, I asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what he was doing to combat sectarianism in our football grounds. The Minister assured me that he was considering legislation to stop indecent, sectarian or racist chanting. Unfortunately, the issue was brought to prominence once again last week by the disgraceful abuse of footballer Neil Lennon at Windsor Park.
No. I have only a few minutes.
Neil Lennon’s only crime was to play football for his country. What sort of brainless people would treat their fellow countryman in such a fashion?
Despite this type of activity, there no reference to the introduction of related legislation in the programme. There is no mention of the problem of sectarianism in sport. An opportunity has been missed, and Mr McGimpsey will not get peace from the Alliance Party or myself until he takes the appropriate action to rid us of this cancer. We do, however, give credit to Mr McGimpsey for his outright condemnation of last week’s deplorable incident at Windsor Park.
The Alliance Party is fighting more than just sectarianism. We are fighting for all groups to be more fully integrated into society. I am concerned that the Executive do not do enough to help the elderly. I have tabled motions in the House calling for an increase in pensions — and we have had some limited success. I have sought for pensions to be linked to incomes, but we have had no success as yet. We have also called for the provision of free personal care for the elderly, as recommended in the Sutherland Report. We were successful in getting the Executive to fund free travel for the elderly 100%. We are thankful for that.
I understand that the Executive, because they lack tax-varying powers, cannot change the rate of pensions. However, we, in the Assembly, should have the right to vary taxes and decide how to spend any extra moneys that are raised. We ought to be fully capable of implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission to ensure that the elderly get the support they need, particularly free personal care, so that our old folk do not have to sell their homes to pay for health care when they need it most. Our Scottish neighbours are doing this, our Welsh neighbours are considering it, and we can do it if the will is there. However, the Executive make no mention of this in their Programme for Government. Also, they do not provide the fresh start promised in the Belfast Agreement —
I welcome the Programme for Government. It is undoubtedly the first time in many years that we, and the public, can see what is set out to be done and so ensure that it is done. That is called accountability. We can use this programme to tick off where we see something positive has been done and mark an "X" where it has not been done. We can then check up on it in the next year. That is excellent accountability.
The Alliance Party has spoken lucidly about the insufficient focus on the need to be more proactive in our fight against division and sectarianism. I recognise that need. There are two areas where more work could have been done. First, Mr McCarthy mentioned the idea of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure extending legislation to Northern Ireland to prohibit and outlaw racist chanting in sports grounds. Something concrete must be done to eradicate this sort of ugliness in our society.
Secondly, divisions arise in the area of education. Addressing that issue is vitally important at primary level, at secondary level and at further and higher education level. Obviously, there is the field of integrated education. I am very disappointed that targets have not yet been set. The integrated education fund has set a fundraising target in an attempt to get 10% of children to go to integrated schools by 2008. Why was that not mentioned in the Programme for Government? I declare an interest, because I am a member of the integrated education fund, fighting for integrated schools.
I also want to mention further and higher education. Why is there not integrated teacher training to combat division? We have the financial duplication of two teacher training institutions, teaching people of different religions exactly the same thing. Does that make any sense? It is the only area of third-level education that is divided. I totally support what the Alliance Party said concerning much more focus being put on bringing us together rather than confirming our separateness.
I would have liked to compliment the Programme for Government in more detail, but time is limited. I have compared the draft with the new programme, and I like the emphasis on equality, particularly on gender equality. Much more reference to that has been made in the new programme. Moreover, the valuable area of sustainable development has also been slotted into the new programme.
In some areas, however, I would like to make constructive criticism of what could be done this year or, if not, next year.
Regarding accidents and road deaths, I am disappointed that more is not being done to reduce the amount of casualties on our roads. Our attitude should be one of zero tolerance.
We talk about education programmes and primary schools, but what about traffic calming? I notice that the Department for Regional Development talks about "minor issues" including traffic calming. Traffic calming is not a minor issue. We want many more resources to reduce speeding — they are called sleeping policemen.
We have all seen in our constituencies the numerous gatherings supporting the rail service, yet has anyone looked at the figures for rail compared to those for road? Off the top of my head, £187 million has been allocated to roads this year and next year, and £97 million to all public transport, with £30 million going to rail. That is half of the amount for roads. What is going on? Where is the commitment to public transport? Let us put our money where our mouth is. Our railways need to be protected. Where is the money for that?
I would like to make a plea for renewable energy. Not enough has been written about that by the Department of the Environment, the Department for Regional Development or the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Not enough is being done about environmental issues. Waste management, recycling and renewable energy are vital. The Prime Minister today announced an allocation of £100 million for renewable energy projects. How much are we getting from that?
Concerning planning and the environment, it has been announced that there will be 40% brownfield and 60% greenfield development in the Belfast metropolitan area. It should be at least the other way round. In London, the figure is 75%. How far behind are we? Let us get our priorities right.
My final point concerns cancer. I have just returned from a valuable cross-party meeting on combating cancer. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has mentioned that, but not nearly enough resources are going into it. We have the lowest survival rate in Europe. The Minister must do something to change that.
I am pleased to welcome the Programme for Government. This is the first time in 30 years that our own politicians are making the decisions for Northern Ireland. There is much to welcome in the document. However, it is not perfect, but we have to start somewhere and, it is to be hoped, learn for the next Programme for Government. I am pleased to see issues mentioned in the document that are important to all the people of Northern Ireland — a healthy society, encouraging children, creating jobs and education for all.
I wish to concentrate, however, on the environmental issue — one that is missing from the Executive’s list of priorities on page 9. Five principles are mentioned, but the environment is not among them.
In the chapter entitled "Growing as a Community" on page 13 the document mentions "sustaining and enhancing local communities". How can we do that without taking the environment into consideration? On page 28, under the heading "Working for a Healthier People" one of the priorities is listed as
"ensuring that the environment supports healthy living".
The document does not state how that will be accomplished.
Page 33 of the document states:
"We will work to ensure".
"Ensure" is an overworked word, and how do we accomplish that?
The document also mentions safer food production but does not say how that will be achieved. Under the action points the aim is to
"progressively eliminate the backlog in transposing and implementing EC Directives on air, land and water quality".
Again, how is that going to be done?
On the same page we find these words:
"By March 2003, achieve a 20% reduction in the 1996 level in the number of high and medium severity water pollution incidents".
The aim to achieve 20% reduction of water pollution incidents from the 1996 level over seven years is not good enough; it must be done more quickly.
In chapter 4 — "Investing in Education and Skills" — there is no mention of educating our children and young people in protecting and caring for the environment.
The section headed "Protecting the Environment" mentions the provision of an additional 12,000 places for environmental training for farmers. I am glad to see that point.
On Page 63 there is a reference to this aim:
"By 2005, achieve 80% compliance with the waste water treatment works discharge standards set by the Environment and Heritage Service".
Does that go far enough?
I am really disappointed with the Department’s public service agreement. Objective 1 is:
"To protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environment for the benefit of present and future generations."
It could also have included the word "care". The Environment Committee asked for this to be included but was ignored. You can have education to protect, but we also require education to "care" for our environment.
The action columns are meaningless and could be more specific as to what needs to be done. The target columns are inconsistent and merely use dates — this makes it totally incomprehensible.
On page 119 we read that the Department is to
"assist district councils in implementing acceptable arrangements for the disposal of waste by production of Group Waste Management Plans."
How are district councils to be assisted? Will this be merely with advice or finance? That has not been explained.
This is typical of the majority of the entries in the action columns. There are statements of intent but no indication as to how they should be carried out.
On page 120, with reference to the historic buildings grant, there is no Programme for Government reference, but there are for the other entries. Also in connection with the historic buildings grants, all that has been restored has been the receipt of applications, with no grants being available until 2002. That is even with the funding being doubled from £1·7 million to £3·4 million. It is still not enough. If more funding were required for immediate restoration of grants and reinstatement of the grants, why was there no bid or effort made to sort this problem out?
Overall the Programme for Government is a valiant first attempt for the Northern Ireland Assembly to deliver accountable objectives and outcomes. I am looking forward to the next Programme for Government. I recommend that there should be more definite targets and actions.
If I were giving marks for effort, as an old teacher —
I will try my best to make sure that it is.
I, of course, support the Programme for Government. All of us here are aware of the historic nature of the document. Both those who support this Government and, interestingly, those who are opposed to it see its real relevance.
As the Executive and the Assembly grow more permanent and begin to deliver the benefits of a devolved Government, is it any surprise that those who have railed against these arrangements and have opposed the will of the people from the start should have demonstrated their fear of failure yesterday and again today? We heard them today repeating — with a mounting degree of panic, in my view — the same, several-years-old arguments that are now beginning to take on the well-worn transparency of a cyclist’s old jockstrap. They are beginning to realise that despite their opposition and the many problems and political tripwires that have been placed in their path, these arrangements are not only capable of working but are working and are beginning to deliver.
A document of this nature is going to create a considerable number of views because of the many issues that it deals with and because it is, as has been said often today, aspirational in nature. However, it is a remarkable document. As Séamus Mallon said this morning, to have come from scratch to this in a relatively short time is a job well done.
I have to place on record a number of concerns. First of all, as Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee I raise three issues that we put into the draft programme which we feel did not get any attention at all. Some of this has been referred to by others from different angles today.
Many references are made to joined-up government, but there are no specifics about how Departments will work together in practice towards mutual goals.
It was also the view of our Committee that there appeared to be too many short-term goals — things to be achieved in one year or two years. The programme covers a three-year period. For example, only one Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure goal is for 2003. That, incidentally, is to prepare a strategy to develop the recreational potential of inland waterways as a tourist attraction.
The third point is that we also have concerns about whether the targets are challenging enough. For example, why will it take until April 2002 to produce a strategy for the development of centres of curiosity and imagination? Maybe there is a wee bit of that missing.
I also want, on behalf of the Committee, to make a few further comments about the draft public service agreement. When considering the Department’s public service agreement, the Committee waded in against the definition provided and took into account the difficulties that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure — as a new Department — had in establishing baseline information by which to measure performance.
The Committee welcomes the Department’s statement of its commitment to promoting equality of opportunity, good community relations, protecting human rights and meeting the objectives of the new targeting social needs policy.
However, it might have been helpful to give some indication of how the Department proposes to do that. It is left to the reader to establish the connection between the statement of commitment and the Department’s targets, programme and budget. The introduction of the PSA also states that the Department is committed to modernising the provision of its services and improving efficiency and effectiveness. It might have been helpful to clarify exactly what this means, and how it is connected to targets, programmes and budgets.
We wish to welcome several changes. The extension of the interim safe sports grounds scheme to improve the physical infrastructure of sporting facilities has been extended in the final programme. I commend the undertaking of an audit of an initial 40 culture, arts and leisure venues as part of a programme to improve accessibility for people with disabilities who are socially disadvantaged. I welcome the target of increasing private sector funding to at least 50% of the Northern Ireland Events Company annual budget. There will be a great benefit from that.
By the same token, we noticed that some issues have slipped between the draft and the final document. Paragraph 2.5.2 states that action to
"make key information available in languages other than English including the development of services for Irish and Ulster Scots in support of the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages" has slipped from April 2001 to May 2001. Also in the PSA, the
"review of community-based arts and work with district councils to enable them to develop integrated plans of culture, arts and leisure" has slipped from April 2001 to June 2001. We do not see any particular reason why that should have happened, and I wish to highlight that issue.
As an Assembly Member, I am concerned about the statement in 2.3.2 of the "Growing as a Community" section on page 21, which states that secure permanent tenancies will be provided for 70% of accepted homeless cases within three months. Do we really have room to allow for 30% of confirmed homeless cases?
I am amazed by Mr ONeill’s comments. He spent some time criticising the DUP because it opposes the Programme for Government. Then he read out a long list of all his objections to the Programme for Government. Of course, he has followed criticism from Sinn Féin, criticism from the Alliance Party and criticism from the Ulster Unionist Party, all of whom listed, line-by-line, opposition to this Programme for Government. He implies that I am a hypocrite. At least I will be voting against it. He is nothing more than lobby-fodder — to be marched through those lobbies on behalf of this pro-Sinn Féin/IRA Government. That is all he is. I am amazed that he has the audacity to take my party to task because we are being honest with people. Yes, we are opposed to this Programme for Government. We have stated reasons, just as his party has stated reasons for its opposition, but at least we will be putting our vote in the right place as a result of that.
The person who wrote the chapter headings for the Programme for Government must have had a very wry sense of humour. Perhaps it was the junior Minister. "Making a difference" — well, this programme really will make a difference to the lives of people in Northern Ireland. We have already seen the difference — hundreds of prisoners are out of jail, the RUC has been destroyed, and it will go on. We will see the difference of having gunmen in Government — their words, not mine. That is what they have done. Yes, they have made a difference in the Government they are supporting by these programmes that they will be putting in place.
There is a section entitled "Working for a Healthier People". We have a Health Minister who justified the allocation of, I think, £32·7 million for the running of her Department. She justifies, again and again, the wasteful use of resources that are being put into the Irish language — as if she is the Minister to promote the Irish language. Hundreds of people are crying out to get a place on a hospital waiting list, or to get into hospital for operations, or to get hip replacements.
She can then justify spending tens of thousands of pounds on the promotion of the Irish language. "Working for a healthier people"? I do not think so, Mr Speaker.
Then we have the sinister Minister of Education, Mr Martin McGuinness. He says that he is investing in education and skills. He had the cheek to offer some educational resources to the Leader of my party — he was going to get the Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment to give him some.
Given that the Minister of Education does not have a spirit level let alone an O level, he has a cheek to talk about people getting a better education. Indeed, I would say "Physician, heal thyself", but as he cannot go to the Minister of Health to be healed because she is too busy spending money on the Irish language, I really do not know whom I can advise him to go to.
What has the sinister Minister — who is supposedly investing in education — done? He has prevented money from going to Protestant schools — that is the reality. A few yards from this Building is one of the largest primary schools in Northern Ireland — Strandtown Primary School. I know it well — I was educated there.
It may as well be closed. The principal of that primary school says that the rooms and facilities are not fit to rear chickens in. That is an indictment of the Minister of Education. What is he prepared to do? He is prepared to spend nothing, absolutely nothing, on that school.
Over the past few months the Minister of Education has been gurning about the terrible sectarian attacks in my constituency of North Antrim. However, he has allocated not one pound in his recent announcement to any of those schools in North Antrim, let alone to the many other, more needy projects in North Antrim for which the North Eastern Education and Library Board has put in claims. He is indicted by his own policy.
Then there is the heading "Working Together". The unfortunate fact is that this Government is not working together. The First Minister banned Sinn Féin from participating in North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meetings. When that was proved to be unlawful, he withdrew his own people and followed the DUP line of not sending people to the NSMC.
On a good-news day we have the ludicrous situation of his Ministers making announcements for other Departments. However, on a bad-news day with a serious issue such as foot-and-mouth disease, we cannot find a Minister to support the Minister of Agriculture. No one demonstrates any cohesiveness in the Government to show that they are all working together for the benefit of Northern Ireland. It is "stand alone" when it comes to bad news.
Edmund Burke said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. If good men do nothing tonight and allow the Programme for Government to go through, they will be allowing evil to triumph. They will be supporting a programme that does nothing to stop Sinn Féin from being in the Government of Northern Ireland and that does nothing to prevent the destruction of the Union that we care for. Nothing is being done to prevent Sinn Féin from having a say in the future of Northern Ireland.
I say to those people "Do not to allow evil to triumph tonight by supporting such a programme." Indeed, they should allow good to prosper by taking on the challenge and opposing the Programme for Government. It will not make people’s lives better, it will destroy their lives. The Programme for Government offers neither a healthier nation nor education to our people. It offers a self-serving allocation of resources to petty little men running certain Departments. I oppose the Programme for Government.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I will be very brief, for I have listened carefully all day to many Members. While I welcome the Programme for Government as a vision and a basis that, like the Good Friday Agreement, commits us all to a shared vision of peace, stability and inclusiveness, I was not elected to promote a vision.
I was elected to be the voice of and to represent those who, in good faith, put their trust in us, as politicians, to deliver a better society. The Programme for Government is the basis for that better society. However, a better society can be delivered only if the Programme for Government is underpinned by a dedicated department of equality.
If we really want to make a difference then we must make the issue of equality central to everything that we do. This will not happen if we relegate equality to an all-kinds-of-everything list in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
I think that everyone accepts that the Six Counties is a profoundly unequal place. If we are to address the historical, political, social, economic and cultural inequalities that are the hallmark of the Six Counties and recognized throughout the world, then we need to prioritise the issue. The lack of equality is at the heart of the divisions in this society, division between Protestant and Catholic, between men and women and between this island and that other island, England.
We could start by using the Programme for Government as a basis and by building alliances among the groups that are most affected by inequality. Some of that is already mentioned in the programme. I am speaking about the Nationalist community, the travelling community, ethnic minority groups, disability organisations, ex-prisoners, young people, the elderly and Irish-language groups.
The commitment to equality is enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, which places equality at the very heart of current and future political developments. I want to echo the words of Mr McElduff, who said something very profound in the Chamber today. He said that we should all go forward with the Programme for Government in one hand — [Interruption]
We should go forward with the Programme for Government in one hand and the Good Friday Agreement in the other, and those two together should add up — fully clothed, of course, Sammy — to a department of equality. Go raibh maith agat.
I will try to get you out of detention as quickly as possible, Mr Speaker. It is unfortunate that the role of the Social Development Committee was largely overlooked in the drafting of the social development public service agreement. We were given very little time to view the proposals. We were not given sufficient opportunity to consider the proposals in detail and decide whether we thought that they met the needs of the people whom we are charged with representing.
We have a new child support system that will have major implications for the whole area of child maintenance in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. [Interruption]
What he does not know is that he has to speak after me.
A new child support system will be introduced that will have major implications for the whole area of child maintenance in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom. The new system will make radical changes to the way that child support is handled. I accept that that should lead to a more straightforward system and that cases will be processed more quickly, and I welcome the fact that modern and more efficient information technology systems will be used to achieve this.
I fear that, without improved planning, the transition period will undermine the whole project. Staff will be required to operate two systems simultaneously. The Committee has some concerns that it has expressed to the Department about the likelihood of the agency’s achieving the ambitious targets that are set out in the public service agreement. The situation needs careful attention, and the Committee will be monitoring it closely.
We are concerned about three areas of the Department’s housing commitments — fuel poverty, replacement programmes and urban/rural regeneration. When the Minister proposed the Domestic Energy Efficiency Scheme II programme to tackle fuel poverty he told the House that it was targeted at those members of society most in need. The qualifying criteria show that that is not the case. Nor is it the case when we consider the amount of finance that is available to the programme. How can one say that £2,000 — whether in an urban or rural community — is sufficient to install a functioning central heating system? My Committee took evidence that indicated that £3,000 is a more realistic figure. How, therefore, will people in receipt of benefits find the additional £1,000 to ensure that their homes are adequately heated?
How can one say that a person on benefit is not a person in need, irrespective of whether they are over or under 60 years of age? The Minister has stated that the purpose of the scheme is to help those people most in need. Is it right that a person who is under 60 and who is chronically ill can only qualify for £750 to cover the cost of draught-proofing and a person who is over 60 and in good health can qualify for a grant — albeit inadequate — for a full central heating system?
The Department has explained that the intention behind the scheme is to protect those in society who are most vulnerable — the over 60s on benefit. While I respect that, I have difficulty in reconciling that explanation when I see someone who is over 60 living in deplorable conditions, and he or she is not entitled to the grant because a small occupational pension disqualifies that individual from benefit. How is such a person any less vulnerable than a person who is over 60 and receiving benefit? How is someone under 60 who suffers from a severe disability any less vulnerable? How are low-income families who live in poor conditions less vulnerable? Perhaps the Minister could explain his criteria for assessing vulnerability.
No significant sums have been set aside to replace Economy 7 heating in Housing Executive properties. It is the most expensive way to heat a home because it uses electricity. It is often the elderly who find themselves burdened with Economy 7. Converting homes to gas or oil-fired central heating will save tenants £3 per week. If we are serious about tackling fuel poverty we must be serious about our commitment to funding the area properly. We must address the needs of the most vulnerable. My Committee is serious about that. We will re-examine the effectiveness of the Domestic Energy Efficiency Scheme II programme after its first year.
The Committee also has concerns about the replacement programme and the issue of raising the quality of our housing stock. That area needs to be considered in the context of the Minister’s assumed rent increase of gross domestic product plus 2%. However, the Minister decided not to implement his proposed rent increase, and that reduced his revenues to such an extent that he needed to cut programmes. One of the first victims of the cuts was the improvement schemes. No kitchen or bathroom improvements have started in this financial year. Apart from those homes eligible for the multi- element improvement schemes, there are no plans to start upgrading kitchens or bathrooms in any other Housing Executive homes. The Programme for Government, through its public service agreements, shows a commitment to raising the standards of housing stock and thereby the quality of life for tenants. How can that be achieved when the Department concerned neglects to make basic improvements on bathrooms and kitchens over 25 years of age?
On the issue of urban and rural regeneration, the Committee was disappointed to note that the Department is only committing itself to a strategy for reinvigorating city and town centres. I am alarmed to see that there is no additional funding commitment in this field. Regeneration requires a bigger effort. I call on the Minister to recognise that his Department needs further commitment in this area.
I support the Programme for Government, including its vision of a cohesive, inclusive and just society. In June 2000 the World Health Organisation confirmed what most people in these islands already knew — that the United Kingdom has a third-rate Health Service. It is rated eighteenth in the world for the effectiveness of care delivered per every £1 spent, and twenty-sixth for its responsiveness to patients and its ability to treat them professionally and with dignity.
The National Health Service is failing in its purpose. Given that the UK is a wealthy nation, its cancer survival rates are appalling; they are far lower than equivalent rates in the rest of Europe, the United States and Japan. Patients with life threatening diseases have to wait unacceptable lengths of time for operations, which means that they live in fear and anxiety. Often, when they do get to hospital, their operations are cancelled.
That was the situation last summer — things may have improved a little because some funding has been made available, but numerous patients still have to wait on trolleys in our A&E departments. Patient discharges from hospitals are being delayed because there are inadequate funds for providing community care and long waiting lists for occupational therapists. These problems are causing great distress to the old and vulnerable in our society. Sadly, similar difficulties are being caused by a lack of resources for the health care of children, the mentally ill and those with physical or learning disabilities.
The NHS Confederation, which encompasses all four health authorities, recently produced figures which show that, in terms of financial resources, Northern Ireland is far behind England, Scotland and Wales. The comparative figures are available.
My Committee held an inquiry into residential and secure accommodation for children in Northern Ireland. It made 36 recommendations. One of the most important of these was the introduction of a commissioner for children, and we are delighted that this is going ahead. Having looked at the public service agreements, it would appear that other recommendations are to be followed through. I hope that all 36 recommendations will be taken on board and that the Children (Northern Ireland) Order will be fully implemented.
It is essential to have good quality community care to meet the needs of young people with learning disabilities, including those discharged from Muckamore Abbey. Those services should be well developed before patients from Muckamore Abbey are resettled.
There has been a good deal of talk about the recent report by the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care for the Elderly, and I am pleased about the introduction of free transport. However, the funding of nursing care but not personal care will lead to inequalities in treatment. As a result, those nursing homes which are intended for the most dependant will be slightly cheaper than residential homes intended for the less dependant. It is also likely that they will be cheaper than certain packages for intensive domiciliary care. Care of the elderly is part of the review of primary-care services, and my Committee will continue to monitor its progress and development.
Our Health Service not just not good: it is the poorest. Our people have to pay the highest price for their health. Inequality in health is evident in every age group. I welcome the Minister’s document ‘Investing for Health’, and I will make two main points to her. First, the term "targeting social need" appears throughout ‘Investing for Health’ and in the public service agreements. We have a few health action zones in Northern Ireland. Each board, the Department and the Chief Medical Officer does its or her own thing in response to targeting social need, but there is no overall co-ordination. I appreciate that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and the Minister herself, will be looking at all these matters. However, one person should be made responsible for co-ordinating these issues. The Health Promotion Agency is a good organisation, but it is not responsible for such co-ordination.
Secondly, my Committee is very involved in the future of primary care. I would like the Minister’s assurance — if not today, then at some time in the future — that there is no reason why we cannot look at the organisation of the health service within the review of public administration and local government. There is no reason why communities who have lived in deprivation for 20 years should have to continue to do so.
I am not talking about extra resources; I am talking about organisation. There is no reason why we cannot look at that issue. In the Minister’s document on primary care the reason is given over and over again that we cannot look at the boards because there is to be a review of public administration. I resent that, and most of my Committee would support me in my hope that we can look at those other bodies.
I have several concerns about the Programme for Government. At the outset I will, like others on this side of the Chamber, take the opportunity to voice my opposition to the North/South Ministerial Council and equally to the North/South Implementation Body as agreed on 18 December 1998.
Many people in my community are angered by the resources and funding being made available to those bodies. They believe that it is to the detriment of many other services, which are underfunded.
First, as a member of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee I want to comment on those areas. The efforts of the Minister and the Department over the past six months in relation to the crisis facing Irish League soccer must be acknowledged. There are two aspects: the safe sports grounds scheme and the soccer strategy report.
I hope that the proposed extension to the Safe Grounds scheme from April 2001 will include those premiership clubs that missed the initial round and the first division clubs, all of whom were previously left out.
Despite the growing calls for a new national stadium, I hope that the refurbishment of existing grounds will take preference as a reward for the clubs’ efforts to keep sport alive in Northern Ireland over three decades of our darkest days.
I want to express some disappointment that the Soccer Strategy report will not be ready until the autumn and will be followed by a period of consultation. Having raised this matter in earlier days, the Minister indicated there would be a report before the end of the current season. I am not sure that time is on our side in this matter. It might be interesting to hear whether the Soccer Strategy fits into the Department’s programme.
Staying with sport but moving to perhaps the more leisurely but equally popular pastime of fishing, I note from the programme that a couple of actions are included. However, it is worth noting at this stage that the report from the Culture, Art and Leisure Committee, which will shortly be before this Assembly, will contain a number of recommendations, which I hope will be fitted into the programmes of the Departments concerned.
I want to draw attention to the lack of recognition of minority sports and the difficulties faced by our disabled sportsmen and sportswomen. The minority sports, which include many of the contact sports, such as karate and boxing receive little recognition and are unable to access funding. Again, society has been thankful for their contribution through troubled times. These sports were able to instil discipline in young people, which stood them in good stead as they progressed through life.
I was equally disappointed with the treatment of disabled sports people. Most of us would have been surprised by the current figures, which indicate that one person in six in our society is registered as disabled. What was even more shocking was to learn of the extent of the lack of purpose-built training facilities, which are virtually non-existent. Urgent progress must be made, to allow our talented disabled sports people to compete in equal terms with their overseas competitors.
One cannot help feeling that the current language policy has gone over the top. When speaking to people in my own community, it is increasingly difficult to explain how so much money and resources can be given to what in reality is only a pastime and a hobby for an unquantified number of participants. This is especially so when our hospitals, social services and educationalists are crying out for assistance.
Everyone should be proud of his or her culture and should respect others within realistic constraints.
I note the aspects of the programme relating to the arts. This area has been falsely perceived at times to be elitist. The Committee will soon be embarking on an inquiry into accessibility to the arts, and we look forward to that.
However, I believe the term "socially disadvantaged" should be changed to "wider community" as there are many people at all levels of society from the socially disadvantaged to the middle classes who have never been in a position to access the arts.
Another item of interest in the programme is that of the cultural quarter concept of designated areas for locating cultural activity. I hope that any forum established to co-ordinate and promote such a dimension will look to do so outside Belfast. There is much potential in some of our historic towns, which would benefit by locating cultural activities there.
I turn now to the other Departments. In my constituency, there are concerns about the Department of the Environment’s proposals for waste management. I am concerned that the Department has dragged its feet on the matter — the timescale indicated in the programme is totally unacceptable. Many district councils cannot wait a year. I am aware of at least one council that is still unsure of where its waste will go after 31 March. I appeal to the Department to review its timescales, treat the matter of waste management with the utmost urgency and give a better lead.
I also have concerns about infrastructure, particularly in east Antrim and my town, Carrickfergus. While I welcome the efforts in the programme to stabilise the transport system — and I hope that east Antrim receives its fair share — there is disappointment that the A2 between Silverstream and Ravenhill on the Shore Road still does not feature. I again appeal to the Department about that matter, considering the growth of and development in the area that that part of the A2 serves.
Another area of concern about infrastructure relates to the old town system in Carrickfergus. Every year there is an increasing level of complaints about flooding and overflow, particularly in the older part of the town. Pressure on the old system is increasing, because it has to cope with continual development. I ask the Department to review the operations in the Programme for Government.
Finally, I refer to health, social services and public safety issues, especially the Ambulance Service. I note that the Department is to provide a modernisation programme for the service, initially targeting fleet replacement. I have been told that on at least six occasions ordinary vans were purchased and converted instead of purchasing six purpose-built ambulances. That cheaper option provides inadequate vehicles that could be a danger to those who operate them. I hope that any replacement fleet will be the real thing.
There is also concern about the state of some ambulance depots and the conditions in which crews are expected to work. Reports about Templemore Avenue, for example, have been particularly unfavourable. In addition, when the Department plans any staff-support programmes, it should take account of the increasing number of attacks on personnel.
In conclusion, as other Members for East Antrim have done, I ask the Department to consider Carrickfergus again as a location for a depot if the service is expanded or if there is a static situation. The location of an appliance there would dramatically improve the response times in the rural areas of east Antrim.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I have waited a long time, but it appears that the debate is going to last a while longer.
I also welcome the Programme for Government, particularly the public service agreements and the important possibilities that they have for the equality agenda. This is similar to other Government documents: it is well put together and reads easily. However, much can be read into it or read out of it. It is very wordy — perhaps trying to hide what it will eventually deliver.
I examined the rural development section. It mentions modernising and diversifying the structure of farming. It makes me wonder what "modernise", "structure" and the "ability to produce food that is trusted throughout the world" mean, particularly given the current situation with foot-and-mouth disease and other difficulties. It states that during 2001 the Department will consider the feasibility of schemes for early retirement and to assist new entrants into farming. What does "consider" mean?
Many of the targets and objectives are only aims. That is my difficulty with the programme. There is too much leeway and no specific details on targets and objectives — they could be removed. It will be a year or three years down the line before we see if anything in the Departments’ public service agreements or in the programme comes about. We will have to wait at least 12 months before getting an idea of what is happening. That is a failing in the document.
With regard to employment matters and Reg Empey’s Department, my area of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency expects the Budget and the Programme for Government to deliver on many issues relating to job provision, small businesses and offsetting the serious situation agriculture now faces.
It does not look as if the policies contained in the programme will help to alleviate the effect of the loss of around 700 jobs in areas west of the Bann in the past three years. Those are the targets that we want to see the Government meet.
Members have mentioned the road and rail system, and there was talk of the budget being halved. I would not like to see much more of the roads budget going towards rail if it means that people in rural areas will have to drive on bad roads every day. People in urban areas could use the rail links but do not do so. We must get the balance right before we start playing off one thing against another without taking into account the fact that most people use cars and will probably continue to do so for some considerable time.
I welcome the TSN targets for the various Departments. We can use them as a barometer to judge how well Departments are delivering. In particular, it is important that we have accountability and openness from Departments, especially as we now have a local Government. The public can already see the benefit of that.
Other Members who have spoken about agriculture have said that there was a clear lack of commitment to help the farmers in the Programme for Government and the Budget. The emphasis is on targets, re-training and administration; very little is delivered at local level. That is a serious failure which will have to be put right, and we will press for that. The role of women in agriculture — in the Department or anywhere else — has not really been mentioned. Farming delegations are still dominated by one gender. The role of women should be promoted.
We need more focus on the real issues that affect people in rural areas. I told the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee that we need to think about rural development. Our Committee has spent a lot of time on mainstream farming issues, to the detriment of rural development. Communities are waiting for the second tranche of EU funds, and it is important that our programme is aimed at helping those communities to get access to the new funding, so that the programme delivers for them. The programme talks about delivery in the context of rural development, but I have had some experience of that, and that simply has not happened. It must happen the next time around, and we will watch out to make sure that it does.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and, indeed, its Minister seem to find it difficult to take criticism about their handling of the current situation. They will find that they will have to take criticism from everybody; it is well founded and is not simply for political purposes. Go raibh maith agat.
I rise to general approval, Mr Deputy Speaker. Members should not clap — they should just throw money. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. The debate has been an endurance test for Members, especially those in the Chair and the junior Minister.
I am disappointed that the Education Committee, like all other departmental Committees, had very little time to consider the draft public service agreement and to make an effective contribution. That is unsatisfactory, and the matter must be addressed to ensure that all Committees have appropriate time to consider and carry out proper scrutiny in future.
The Education Committee welcomes the fact that investment in education and skills is an Executive priority. That is only right; education should and must remain a priority. Education is a key component in ensuring that a strong, vibrant and competitive economy is created for Northern Ireland. It is an investment in Northern Ireland’s future. It is also imperative that all young people be given the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills that they will need to take their place in the modern-day workplace and society.
In the time afforded to me it is not possible to cover all the details of the Programme for Government. However, I will make some general comments and then refer to some of the education targets and actions. The Programme for Government is an important document that sets out the main priorities for the months and years ahead. It is a high-level document, but parts of the public service agreements section are vague and lack detail. Clarification is required with regard to some of the terms used. More specific linkages between the various actions and the allocations of finance also need to be clarified. Progress on the actions and targets will have to be monitored. Therefore clarity is essential to ensure that a meaningful and accurate assessment is made.
The actions outline a number of major policy reviews on school funding, the curriculum, post-primary education and, of course, the review of the transfer procedure selection in education and the future structure of post-primary education is ongoing. I am glad to see that account has been taken of the Education Committee’s views and that the appropriate action point has been amended to prevent unrealistic expectations that the review of selection will be completed by June 2001.
That review has initiated an in-depth and crucial debate in Northern Ireland on its education systems. It should not be viewed in isolation. Consideration of those issues must not be rushed in order to achieve arbitrary deadlines. The necessary time must be taken to ensure that the review is done properly. The Education Committee welcomes the target to provide one year of pre-school education for every child whose parents wish it by March 2003. However, the Committee wishes to see more detail on the form that the pre-school education should take. That should be based on research and current best practice.
The Education Committee also acknowledges the vital role that rural schools play in their communities, and it is hoped that the Programme for Government will provide the support that those schools need.
I also welcome the commitment to raising educational standards and to addressing low achievement and underachievement. However, I have reservations regarding those targets outlined in the public service agreement, which have been set at a lower level than those outlined in the strategy for numeracy and literacy. While the targets have taken account of the levels of performance, I am concerned that the more challenging targets have not been retained, particularly given the timescale for achievement and the significant resources that will be allocated to address this issue. Targets should be achievable, but previous performance that has not met expectations should not automatically mean that the expectation is reduced. It should prompt us all to try harder to find innovative ways to achieve our goals.
I am pleased that account has been taken of the comments of the Education Committee regarding the need for more linkages between the Programme for Government and the public service agreements. This has resulted in specific targets on non-attendance, suspensions and expulsions being included as well as targets relating to information and communication technologies.
The inclusion of targets regarding major capital works is also pleasing. I am sure all Members have seen at first hand the major problems in school estates and the backlog of priority works that must be urgently addressed. I could say much more in a party political sense, but unfortunately time does not permit.
In conclusion, the final judgement on the Programme for Government will be what we achieve and whether we will have made a real difference. I welcome the programme and the actions and targets contained in it. Much work is required to ensure that these targets are met. This is the start of the process, and I have no doubt that the Education Committee will play a full leading part and will closely scrutinise the Department of Education’s work to ensure that adequate progress is made, better services are provided and value for money is achieved.
I support the Programme for Government and commend the Ministers and officials involved in its production. I also want to pay tribute to those bodies who were consulted and who responded to the draft programme. However, as party spokesperson for health, I intend to concentrate on the many and varied health issues.
Northern Ireland has an unenviable health record with death rates from coronary heart disease and some cancers the highest in Europe. There are some issues which need to be urgently addressed such as lengthy waiting lists, particularly in the field of orthopaedic surgery, and ill health associated with social disadvantage. We have to encourage health promotion with regard to smoking. There are currently 3,000 deaths a year from smoking. We have to at least encourage people to try to stop. Alcohol is the most widely available and widely abused drug. People are a bit blasé about alcohol and do not see it in those terms. We have to, through education, reduce the numbers of teenage pregnancies. We have to encourage all major employers to have safety managers to avoid accidents at work. We have to encourage more young mothers to breastfeed to give their babies the best chance in life.
With regard to coronary heart disease, we have to teach cardio pulmonary resuscitation to the general public. We are all aware that those first few minutes after a cardiac arrest are the most critical. If there is someone on hand who can perform resuscitation the person has a better chance of recovery.
Children’s concerns need to be addressed. We are all aware that a bad episode in hospital can give a child a philosophy for life that makes him afraid to attend hospital. We have to attempt to allay their fears. We must also encourage healthy eating. The fact is that we all know what to do but very few of us do it. We need to be more concerned about keeping people out of hospitals, rather than feeling that the only available option is inpatient treatment. We need to keep targeting social need (TSN) policies to the forefront in all decision-making processes and have section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 written into all contracts and agreements. We need to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds across the four board areas. We must ensure that those with disabilities are treated equally and have access to all facilities. We also need to ensure equality of opportunity and have day-surgery facilities available to all communities. At present we have an inadequate Ambulance Service. In Derry there was a very bad fire. The whole family, with the exception of one child, were fatally burned.
At that particular time there was only one ambulance available. When the paramedics came, one of the policemen had to drive the ambulance. A dead person had to be put onto the floor. That is unacceptable in this day and age. We need better ambulance cover in all the board areas.
In relation to cancer, I agree with Edwin Poots’s point that men’s cancers have to be addressed. We need to address the issue of testicular and prostate cancers. There is now a very simple test for prostate cancer, which was not available in the past. It is not currently available here, but I think that the Health Service should be looking at that. We also have to make sure that the cancer services are friendly services. At the minute, cancer is the number two killer in our community. If we do not take action soon, it will become the number one killer. This afternoon we had a meeting with Prof Roy Spence, who is the leading cancer clinician in Belfast. Some of the figures he gave us on deaths from cancers made very sad reading.
These death rates are rising. The incidence of lung cancer is rising, as is the rate of other cancers. Some can be cured if they are caught in time, so early detection is the answer in that regard. We are currently very short of oncology services in Belfast and throughout the North of Ireland. There are two oncologists. We need more oncologists in Belfast. We also need a magnetic resonance imaging scanner available in Belfast. At the minute that is not the case, and it is a disgrace that a major city does not have one.
We need a dedicated cancer centre day unit that is linked to treatment. It is wrong that people have to travel to Belfast, but if they cannot get their treatment locally they must do so. If the disease can be controlled, people should be available to give the necessary palliative care and counselling. Patients should not have to travel 70 miles to get it, as happens at the moment.
I am aware of three patients who have been diagnosed as having cancer in the last five years. One is a young woman who travels daily from Omagh. She travelled initially to Belfast by bus for chemotherapy, although she has now managed to get alternative transport. That is staggering. Anybody who has had chemotherapy will know that some of the drugs can make you very sick. Day patients going for chemotherapy at the City Hospital are suffering at present. There are no toilet facilities available and no water fountain near the day patients’ entrance. Some people are sick and have to walk — perhaps while receiving drip-fed treatment — through the treatment room. That is unacceptable.
We must ensure that we get a proper service here — a dedicated cancer service available in the City Hospital. Space is currently available, and we want that provision now rather than having to wait for another couple of years for it. I hope that this will be taken on board by the health and social services in the very near future, and that they will not wait until more people die.
The Programme for Government could be considered as being the wish-list of the Executive and the various Departments. That is where the problems really begin. Many questions have been asked here today, and more need to be asked.
What is the structure by which the public are to determine what outcomes have been achieved? Take mental health, for example. A target of 35,000 consultations seems to be excellent news. How will the public know that this target is genuine and that it will genuinely be met? Given the amount of dishonesty and massaging of figures in Government circles, how can this be determined?
What about the issue of effectiveness? Is there any way that those outcomes can be determined? What about those who are already having consultations? How effective are they? I note with interest that some dates are given for parts of this wish-list to be achieved. The public’s problem will be in assessing which targets have been achieved.
Let us take, for example, the acute hospitals. The target on page 35 is to agree a way forward by December, but that depends on other reviews and strategies, some of which are listed. How can the one be achieved if the other is not in place?
Let us look at the plan to provide 40 to 50 specialist staff by March 2002. Are those people already being trained? If not, how is that going to be achieved? There is a target to recruit 640 nurses by 2003-04. Are sufficient numbers already being trained? What about the failure to retain those already in nursing? How can we meet such a target if we are continually losing staff in the Health Service? Why are these real problems not included?
The capital programme for health in the document aims
"to finalise and begin implementation of a strategic development plan to modernise the forty-year-old Ulster Hospital" and
"by September 2001, to finalise plans for the Belfast City Hospital cancer centre."
However, there is no mention of any action taking place. It was staggering to hear — during a presentation by the Ulster Cancer Foundation this afternoon — that by the year 2004 cancer will be the number-one killer. It is a tragedy that there is no action plan in this Programme for Government to deal with this serious problem.
Let us turn to education, where there is another range of problems. On page 40 there is a reference to upgrading buildings. This is laudable in itself, but how is it going to be achieved when the bulk of the money is all going one way? Considering his current practices, how will the Minister achieve that unless he really means that he will only be concerned with the integrated sector?
The problem is not that there is no Programme for Government but that it is so huge that what is called the "Durkan tax" would need to be trebled. This seems to me to be the real issue: is the programme sensible, achievable and workable?
All of these things will not be achieved in two or three years, which leads me to a further point; if these plans are put into operation — requiring huge sums of money — then there is no sane reason why we should need another Programme for Government for at least two years. All we would be getting would be a simple update. What is more, there is no possibility of flexibility in such a system. By aiming at everything, there is the danger of achieving nothing.
Finally, the Executive’s own agenda says nothing about developing and enhancing the UK dimension. Aa great deal is said about the North/South dimension, and it is evident that the First Minister, Mr Trimble, has not even bothered to try to do anything about that disparity. He has capitulated completely. It is little wonder that my party.refuses to take its seats on such a body of united Ireland promoters. I oppose the Programme for Government.
A LeasCheann Comhairle, go raibh maith agat. I support the Programme for Government, although I have reservations. If we are honest about it, there are many proposals in the document, but they are bland enough to cover all circumstances. However, we also have to recognise that a great deal of work went into this, the first programme. We will need to keep a tight reign on it to see that it is implemented in full.
My concerns centre around the rebalancing of services, facilities and infrastructure, east and west of the Bann. This is one of the main issues, but there is no mention within the Programme for Government — either in a Department context or even from an overarching point of view — that this re-balance is necessary and will be carried out.
Today’s Finance Committee did not give me any extra details about the Programme for Government, however I welcome the commitment given by the Minister, Mark Durkan, and his promise of swift action to review the Civil Service to decentralise its jobs. I hope that this move can be rural-proofed to ensure that we get the jobs out of the city — not just into Derry city, but west of the Bann as well.
Perhaps the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development could be rural-proofed. It would be good to see it based in a rural area.
Finance-raising powers have been limited to rates collection. Rates are a crude way of collecting taxes, which we must re-examine. I welcome the review of rating policy by the Minister, although there is certainly an opportunity to review rating policy and taxation in general.
We must look at who is paying rates — namely, the town centres. Much damage has been done to town centres over the past years. We must look at out-of-town shopping to ensure that there is fair rates distribution. As regards domestic rates, we must have a situation where we target social need.
We must look at businesses. We must look at their location, their turnover, and their abilities to pay rates, rather than simply basing our rates on the square footage of a building. That is an unfair system of tax collection.
I welcome the cross-departmental approach proposed by the Executive as regards agriculture and rural development. However, I question whether rural-proofing ought to be left to self-regulation. There is a big question mark about who polices who in such a situation. I am concerned that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development could not define what rural proofing meant during the Committee meeting with the Minister last week. Perhaps we could measure proposals against what happens in reality.
I support the Chairperson of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee’s statement yesterday in relation to the fishing crisis. There is not only an agricultural crisis, there is also a fishing crisis. There is a crisis in rural development and in the entire rural structure. The fishing industry was once a strong major resource, and many good fishing areas existed. However, that was long before we joined the European Community. Stocks are now depleted. Our fishermen are being restricted in the areas they can fish, whereas everyone else seems to have free reign. Our fishermen have been sold out. Their stocks and their rights have been sold off for seats in the European empire.
The Minister told the Committee last week that she could not restrict cattle and traffic coming from England, Scotland and Wales into the North. That flies against all the advice that has been given in the past. Certainly, every vehicle leaving the North has been searched umpteen times. We were told that there would be no borders in the European Union, and now we are seeing the effect of having no internal restrictions. The situation exists in the European Union that our Minister was unable to stop the influx of sheep into this country.
The European partnership and rural development are in danger of collapse if the Executive do not deal with the gap funding. This is one of the main causes of rural decline at present.
As regards European programmes, there is no infill between the Peace I and Peace II programmes. The Minister must clarify when Peace II funding will be on the ground and when the rural communities will benefit from it. Otherwise, we will lose a major asset in the rural community.
On the matter of health, which is another issue close to my heart, Mr McGrady said that the Hayes review was becoming a barrier to action, and I agree. Action cannot be taken as everything is being put back until after the review has been completed. There is much pending its completion. There is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Dr Hayes and his group to come up with a new health structure. It is a flaw that we are left waiting for the Hayes review to rectify all the wrongs of the past 20 years. We need a new direction, but the Programme for Government does not give a clear direction as to what resources will be put into the Hayes review. If Dr Hayes were to say that we should rebalance services east and west of the Bann, that we were going to have an end to the "golden six" hospitals and that rural hospitals would be provided for us, there would be no money in the Programme for Government to do anything about it.
We can see that the Royal Victoria Hospital is continuing with its build programme. I welcome that. There is certainly a need for centres of excellence. But all centres of excellence do not need to be in Belfast. They can be anywhere. What about the acute services review? That has not restricted the build programme.
The Assembly needs to give a clear indication that services east and west of the Bann must be rebalanced to provide the rural community with the hospital service, infrastructure and facilities it needs. Otherwise, it is wasting its time.
Discrimination west of the Bann was a trademark of the old Stormont Administration. If we continue in that vein, we will be as guilty as those who have gone before us. Discrimination was exercised not only against the Catholic community but against the entire community west of the Bann. The whole service was restructured when hospital services and many others were taken from those rural communities and put into such places as Craigavon. We need a clear indication that we will rebalance all of that.
I, like others, welcome the document with reservations. It is historic, being the first locally drawn up action plan for the Government of Northern Ireland. However, as my Colleagues and I are pointing out today, it must also be an opportunity for concerns about the overall ethos of the programme and — more importantly — for its implementation for the benefit of all the people in Northern Ireland.
As regards education, there is a commitment in the programme to provide high-quality education for all, with equal access for all. Last week, the Minister of Education announced a practical commitment in the capital spending programme to improve the quality of school buildings and equipment. However, there is still a long way to go to create an ethos of equality — perceived or otherwise — in a number of areas of educational life. I regret to say that one of the most glaring omissions is that of a full commitment to children with learning disabilities. If we are to have equality of opportunity to achieve the potential for each child, whatever his or her ability, surely some definite promise of action should have been made.
On the subject of integrated education, some progress has been made in the funding and setting up of schools, but the viability criteria are still far too restrictive to the extent that most integrated schools are turning away large numbers of potential pupils every year. Integrated schools are often criticised as being a minor part of the education sector, and there will be clear discrimination against pupils and parents if some action is not taken to promote the free choice of integrated education.
I must point out that pre-school education has been largely integrated until now, and it is hoped that the Government will encourage the continuation of that under the action programme.
I am also concerned about the comments on the 11-plus in the programme. It states that by June 2001 consideration will be initiated on the review body report on post-primary education. What exactly does that mean? Where, and between whom, will that discussion take place? How can this implement the process for higher-quality education for all, when the current system has been largely discredited? The key to any programme should be the swift implementation of all its actions to promote equality of opportunity, but much of the education section must be clarified before that can be done.
The promises made for education by the Executive are to be welcomed for their attention to the enhancement of pre-school education, the vocational element in education and the promised aims of providing lifelong education opportunities for all. However, it must be accepted that these promises need to be fully explained so that people know they can be delivered.
The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister did commit the Executive to carrying out equality proofing in all their schemes, but it is still not clear if the forthcoming Single Equality Act will consolidate all existing legislation. We would ask that it does that as soon as possible. In that, I welcome the commissioner for children, but again I have to say that the remit and status of this position must be transparent to ensure the basic necessity for it, which is that all children should feel confident of equal treatment.
One and a half pages of the Programme for Government tackle the divisions in our society. These include a large paragraph on the need to encourage and support the celebration of cultural and linguistic diversity. I fully agree with that, but I would like there to be a better appreciation of the diversity among our people; this should also be noted in the same specific language.
One of the first priorities should be community relations and work to combat sectarianism. However, given my direct knowledge of the good and the bad occurrences of many communities in Northern Ireland today, there is no real comfort in the promises made in the Programme for Government. With due respect to the Deputy First Minister, it is not enough to say that good community relations are inherent in the whole programme, without taking specific steps to counteract the sectarianism which is ingrained in our society.
The Community Relations Council must be strengthened and it needs to be shown more appreciation through increased support and funding. In this way, the positive work, past and present, of the many different community groups, including women’s organisations et cetera, can be built upon rather than thrown away.
There are many points in the Programme for Government about which one can be hopeful, and no one can deny the direct and constructive effect of the Executive and the Assembly on Northern Ireland to date. However, the Alliance party needs to express its concerns along with its praise because there is still no real acknowledgement of the diversity of our society, including its variety of cultures and religions, which requires positive recognition here and now. There is still a perception abroad that in Northern Ireland, if one is not a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, one is outside the norm. Unfortunately, this programme proposes nothing that will change that perception at all.
I support the amendment.
Several Members have spoken at length about education. I was pleased that both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister highlighted the need to meet targets, particularly those relating to literacy and numeracy at Key Stage 3. Until now, targets set by the Department have not been met, but they are now enshrined in this document. We have a firm commitment that our children will have a fundamental right to an education that will spare them the agony of going through life with serious literacy and numeracy problems. That is the best news any child could hope to receive. It is a fundamental basic right of children, and it will be protected by equality legislation. If the Department fails, we can ask questions. I, along with others, have been doing that.
Many other targets have been set. As politicians, we have a duty to ensure that the Department meets those targets in the interests of those who matter most — our children and young people. Funding is allocated for a modest increase in youth service provision, and help is to be provided for young people with severe learning difficulties in particular. More provision is needed if we are to give our young people a healthy start in life, free from the influence of drug pushers, paramilitaries, joyriders and all of the other anti-social elements which have destroyed so many lives in Northern Ireland for many years.
There are now opportunities to address the education needs, through life-long learning programmes, of those who have been let down by the education system in the past. There is to be funding for education guidance organisations such as the Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA), which has done a great deal to give hope to the 250,000 people between the ages of 16 and 64 who need their help.
I am concerned that there is insufficient funding to address the problems that exist, but at least we now have a direct influence on widening access to education for everyone. Surely, that marks the first real step towards progress. Young people in further education colleges now have some sense of equality with others in universities — who in his right mind would be opposed to that?
In the past, those who suffered from social disadvantage have been exploited for political gain. This programme aims to make those people equal in every respect. It is not simply telling them that they have been discriminated against; it is providing them with the resources and tools to allow them to raise their heads above the parapet as equals.
The funding allocated to the Northern Ireland Audit Office will transform the way in which the Government spend taxpayers’ money. For some time now, Members from all political parties have had the right to scrutinise reports prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General. That simple but effective exercise has the potential to save millions of pounds of public money and redirect it to other areas.
Sadly, a small number of Assembly Members who continue to draw their salaries have decided not to sit on the Public Accounts Committee, or on any Committee, to carry out the crucial work to which I have referred. Others enjoy Ministers’ perks but refuse to sit in the Executive to make the collective decisions that are so important to our people.
My earliest childhood memories are of listening to politicians who preached doom and gloom from platforms at seasonal intervals. While they lectured society, the rest of us were forced to endure appalling housing conditions and suffer the indignity of seeing our parents without jobs. That day is now over. It does not matter whether the prophets of doom spew out their negative views from the backs of lorries or from hilltops — things are not going back for me, my family or anyone, no matter what their colour, class or creed. Members of the public are not fools. They know that for the first time they are being represented and that their views are being listened to. Why else would so many Assembly Members in the "No" camp have opened advice centres?
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which some like to malign, is helping the farming industry through one of the most difficult periods in its history. The Minister for that Department has won the respect and admiration of people from diverse quarters for the way in which she is handling the foot-and-mouth disease crisis. In the Programme for Government there are, for the first time, new proposals and opportunities that should restore our farming industry to profitability in a way that it has not experienced in the past. Agriculture and rural development are no longer in competition but working as a partnership, helping to preserve the countryside and protect the environment. Under direct rule it was a horror story with many rural communities in danger of extinction. Now there is hope.
Over the past 30 years I watched helplessly as various British Governments treated this part of Ireland with contempt and scorn. I watched their antics as they jetted in and enjoyed the perks of high office but contributed little or nothing to our people or to their quality of life. The programme marks a new beginning and a new future that leaves that unfortunate period of history behind. It addresses the issues that created injustice and inequality and prevented any opportunity to address social need. I grew up experiencing all those injustices. I want to see an end to them, and so do the vast majority of people on this island.
The programme sets the targets to achieve that — targets that we can measure and improve upon as time goes by. Surely it is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness? Of course, the programme is not a single candle. As my Colleague Arthur Doherty said earlier today, it is a beacon of light offering much more than a ray of hope to so many people badly affected by the darkness and sterility of the politics in this land in the past. It threatens no one except those who have preached doom and gloom in the past. I know that, and so do the people of Northern Ireland.
I support the motion.
Mr Depute Convener, A’m for tawkin maistlie anent the Govrenment’s plicht ti mak the Heftin o Unnerdocht Fowk (TSN) a heich maitter. A maun lofe the Govrenment for pittin TSN as the steid o the Daein for Govrenment. A pensie Govrenment maun heft the unnerdocht fowk o wir kintra bi helpin thaim get back ti wirkin an get awa frae puirtith. The Govrenment wad hae plicht ti luik haird at thaim wi nae wark an thaim athoot. The Govrenment plans wad be luikin ti seek oot the fowk an quarters as needs hae the maist an mak siccar Govrenment daeins wrocht ti heft thaim.
I am going to concentrate my discussion on the Government’s promise to making the targeting of social needs a priority. They have included this promise in the new TSN to underpin and inform the Programme for Government. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of government to help the most disadvantaged people in our communities by helping them to get jobs and escape the cycle of deprivation. The Government have promised to focus on unemployment and social deprivation. The plans put forward aim to do this by identifying the people and the areas in greatest need, then trying to ensure that Government programmes are more effective in helping them. However, there are large sections of the community in TSN areas whose needs will not be met by this Programme for Government.
Without question, there are major inequalities in our society: in health, in education, and in the numbers of long-term unemployed in the Province. Northern Ireland is one of the most deprived areas in the United Kingdom. It consistently displays the highest levels of unemployment and comparison shows an even greater disparity in the rates of long-term unemployment.
The average gross weekly earnings per household and per person are among the lowest of any of the four home nations, and a much greater proportion of the population here relies on social security benefits. It grieves me to listen to Mr Dallat talk about the deprivation that he experienced in his area. Deprivation is not exclusive to one side of the community; it occurs in the Protestant and Unionist areas too. I come from a poor background, as did many other Members in this Chamber. Poverty is not exclusive to one side or the other.
The Government have promised to target long-term unemployment and social deprivation. I would like to use my constituency of Strangford as a case study. The borough of Ards has extremely high levels of deprivation. It is comparable to the very worst areas of the Province. As we speak, the industries of agriculture, fishing and textiles are under enormous pressure. The situation seems to be spiralling out of control. As a Unionist area, it is having great problems; that is not exclusive to one side or the other. We are in the midst of a crisis that will have an immense negative impact upon the economy in my area.
At this point, I should mention the high unemployment levels in the Ards borough. As has already been emphasised and illustrated with figures, many industries which formed the backbone of the local economy have recently closed or are facing meltdown. The textile industry has seen over 2,000 job losses. Farming, which is a core industry in our council area, is under great pressure, as is the fishing industry in the village of Portavogie. The Ards borough is having problems on all three fronts.
Unemployment levels among the male workforce are among the highest in the Province. The Northern Ireland average stands at 7·3%, whereas the figure for Newtownards is 8·5%. Overall, unemployment figures are also well above the Northern Ireland average. Deprivation is a vicious circle which needs to be broken to allow people any real chance of life. The people of Strangford and of the Ards borough deserve that opportunity in the same way as everyone else. Will new TSN achieve that goal?
I question aspects of the Government’s existing TSN policy, as the results do not appear to produce a true or accurate indication of social deprivation within any given area. There must be parity of social recognition between a disadvantaged person living in an area perceived to be affluent, and a disadvantaged person in an area that is perceived to be disadvantaged. Although areas such as Ards and Strangford are perceived to be affluent areas, one only has to look at one of the local housing estates to see a different story. Take, for example, the Glen estate or the Westwinds estate in Newtownards, or the villages on the Ards Peninsula. These communities have higher rates of unemployment, more people on social security benefits, a lower rate of car ownership, and more people on the poverty level than in many other parts of the Province. That is the reality in the Ards borough — an area perceived to be affluent.
There must be flexibility in Government policy, or else this system of TSN will continue to punish the people of Ards borough and the Ards peninsula. The Government and this Programme for Government must ensure that deprived areas are not ignored but are targeted for assistance. Can that be done within the new TSN? Many believe that it cannot. I have a problem with the Programme for Government for that reason.
I support the Programme for Government. I have listened to the debate intently, both in the Chamber and on television. I would like to speak about social development.
"We will combat social exclusion and poverty, with a particular emphasis on children."
That should be music to the ears of us all. Mr Shannon is correct to say that poverty knows no boundaries. Poverty is the same whether it is Larne, Carrickfergus or Newtownards.
We have a collective here, with Departments cutting across issues to deliver a service that targets social need and combats poverty — something we all want to see.
Mr Cobain spoke about child support and social security. Some of those benefits are very difficult to administer. I welcome the £3 million capital investment to administer those benefits through new computer systems. However, we need to ensure that we do not have the same kind of problems that were encountered with the computer system to administer child benefit. Like Mr Cobain, I have reservations about trying to administer different systems simultaneously.
In the Social Security Agency we see people on benefit, people from low-income families, people who live in poor housing, who are more likely to smoke, drink and have an unhealthy lifestyle. There must be a collective approach to targeting social need within those groups.
Education is a way out for many people and more needs to be done in this area. Although we have the top A level results in the United Kingdom, we also have major problems with people leaving school unable to read and write. These issues must be tackled over the next few years, and in the context of this programme. I believe this will happen because there is Executive authority behind it. Individual Departments can do certain things on their own.
I welcome some of the measures introduced by the Minister for Social Development. The new domestic energy efficiency scheme will go a long way towards trying to eliminate fuel poverty. Houses will be better heated so people will spend less money. However, we also need cheaper electricity for people who are wholly dependent on this source of energy.
Where I live not everyone claims all that he or she is entitled to. I deal with constituents who should have been receiving benefits some five or six years ago. Why has society let those people down for so long? I was particularly pleased to hear the Deputy First Minister say that he would look at benefit outreach programmes to try to ensure that people who are in real need receive every single penny to which they are entitled. In that context, we must make it easier for those people to claim benefits. The forms must be simplified; the whole social security package could be a one-stop shop — I hope that that is what is meant by the references to one system.
There is a need to reduce electricity prices. The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment made a statement yesterday. However, it is extremely perverse that electricity is 9% more expensive here than it is in the Republic of Ireland. We export electricity to the Republic, where it is provided to consumers at a price that is 9% lower than the price at which Northern Ireland Electricity provides it to us. Such things must be looked at in order to help those most in need. People need to be protected; there must be a safety net.
Some aspects that fall within the remit of the Department for Social Development that could be improved. Just before Christmas, the Child Support Agency produced a report that contained a number of glaring inaccuracies. I welcome the fact that the Minister has brought forward new legislation to simplify the administration of that benefit simpler. Unfortunately, it will not take effect until next year.
I want to thank the Executive for bringing forward the Programme for Government. It is a major first step towards combating poverty in our society.
I want to make it clear, as other Members from this party have done already, that we do not support the document. It is presented as a Programme for Government, and the implication is that it is based on agreement and common action and that it is a collective piece of work. That, of course, is far from the case.
The background to our discussion is that the two main parties, which have supposedly signed up to the Programme for Government, are at loggerheads. They have been to the courts to fight each other, and more court actions are pending. One party has now withdrawn from the North/South Ministerial Council, in support, no doubt, of the long-standing DUP position.
The Deputy First Minister criticised Members from my party for their irresponsibility in not participating in the Executive that supposedly drew up this collective document. Members from all parties have criticised the document. Some have done it constructively, and some of their criticisms have been acceptable; others have not been constructive. The best example of that was Mrs Nelis, who in her own distinctive way has carried on the Republican tradition of whingeing about everything. After whingeing about it, she told us that the way forward was to have the Programme for Government in one hand and equality legislation in the other. I do not know whether Sinn Féin intend to recruit octopuses, but they will have to, for they have Armalites, ballot boxes, the Programme for Government, equality agendas and Lord knows what else in their hands.
The Programme for Government is meant to be a collective piece of work, but those who were supposedly involved in it are criticising each other. All the parties in the Assembly have criticised it, although some have defended it stoutly. This morning, we heard Sir Reg Empey claim all sorts of things for the Programme for Government: unemployment was down, house prices were up, and confidence was up. He did not say that that was happening in the economy a long time before the Programme for Government was even dreamt up, let alone drawn up.
It was an example of greater co-operation between parties than ever before. There was no rivalry between the parties involved in the Executive. Mr ONeill echoed that this afternoon when he said that the document had been drawn up from scratch — a remarkable document. It was as if there had never been any ongoing programmes in Departments before the document was drawn up. It seemed that Government in Northern Ireland suddenly started when the document was drawn up. That is not true.
We do not have the ability to make decisions collectively and operate together. There is rivalry. There is evidence that individual Ministers are using their Departments to further their own aims.
I will draw attention to the Minister of Education, whom my colleague described as "the sinister Minister". He tells us on page 107 of the Programme for Government that he intends to undertake 12 major works projects that will reduce the backlog of work across the schools estate. However, he has used the budget available to him like his own Sinn Féin election fund.
Half of the money has gone to schools in Londonderry — where he lives — or to Mid Ulster and West Tyrone, constituencies in which his party will contend for seats at the next election. Half of the private finance initiative funds have been spent in those areas. That is blatantly for electoral purposes. Has he directed those funds across the schools estate? No. The money has been directed at the Republican community. Thirty-four million pounds of private finance initiative money and £25·2 million of departmental money — half of the money from both funds — has been directed at a Sinn Féin election drive in three constituencies where they either hold seats or wish to hold seats after the next Westminster election.
We are told that the Programme for Government shows that the parties are not rivals and that they are working together towards a common programme. Reg Empey made that claim. Is he saying that the Ulster Unionist Party is so far down the road with Sinn Féin that he is endorsing their electoral campaign and the use of the schools budget to further it. Is that what he is saying? That is the reality. That is what lies behind the softened words of the Programme for Government. A Minister who is not accountable to the Executive, the Assembly or the Committees will direct money; he can do his own thing. That is not a programme for collective action; it is a programme for narrow party political action. Unfortunately our set-up that allows people such as Martin McGuinness to get away with it.
In the debate on the draft Programme for Government on 13 November 2000 I said that the test of the programme would be how well it would deal with all society’s problems. I said that it had made a good start on socio-economic policies, and I would give it 7 out of 10 if we were in Scotland or Wales. There have been some improvements in the final programme. Areas such as equality, which were highlighted by the Deputy First Minister, have been improved considerably.
There also has been some slippage in the programme. It is remarkable how often an aspiration for June has become October, or spring has become summer. Perhaps the permanent secretaries have nobbled the politicians, or they have made it more realistic — that may be a more charitable way to express it. Certainly it is doubtful whether in many cases the public service agreements could be described as excessively overambitious. However, since I am a charitable man, maybe I should now increase the mark to 7·5 or 8 out of 10 — if we were Scotland or Wales. Of course, we are not Scotland or Wales. We are a unique society with a distinct set of problems.
As I said in November, our fundamental problem is the deep division in our society. In that respect, the Programme for Government is sadly lacking. This remains my concern today, even after having listened to the contributions from all those Ministers who took time to speak in the debate. The programme has much fine rhetoric but very little substance. The thinness of the public service agreements that have been added illustrate that. Indeed, Alex Maskey of Sinn Féin, speaking in support of the programme, said the linkage between aspirations, firm targets and specific actions was lacking.
Opening the debate yesterday, the First Minister said he was disappointed with our amendment. He said that we had five months to consider the programme and that in many areas our ideas were close to those of the parties involved in drafting it. We have had a little over a week to consider the final report, and I agree that many of our ideas are close to those in the programme — which is why I have just given it 8 out of 10 in certain circumstances. However, many of the points raised by Sean Neeson in proposing our amendment were made by us last November, have since been made by us in questions to Ministers in this Assembly, and they have not been taken on board.
I want to look at some of those points. In November I highlighted the issue of sharing over separation as being a fundamental primary objective. That should not have come as any great surprise to the First Minster. In September 1998 he sat on a platform in Brighton while I made a speech on that topic, yet it does not seem to have made any difference. What about those who do not fall within the two main streams? We are all minorities in this place. However, two minorities appear to be more significant than all the others. Looking at the current version — the final version, we are told — there is almost nothing about promoting a shared society.
Back in November Kieran McCarthy highlighted the problems of graffiti, illegal flags and paramilitary murals. They intimidate the average person in Northern Ireland and make areas unwelcoming to visitors, but the subject is not mentioned. In fact, the Programme for Government has a section on promoting tourism. Paragraph 5.3.3 is headed:
"We will work to increase Northern Ireland’s attractiveness to visitors".
However, there is not a single word about graffiti or painted kerbstones.
In the debate on the draft programme Eileen Bell said that the title of the introduction, "Making a Difference", would be more credible if there had been any attempt whatsoever to get away from this dangerously traditional "two nations" concept. There is no sign that this concern has been taken on board. Today she highlighted aspects of community relations, where the Programme for Government still falls short. Similarly, I highlighted the vagueness of section 2.5 in that debate in November, and there has been no change of substance. There is nothing at all on our call for measures to promote integrated housing.
I really wonder where the First Minister has been — of course, he is not in the Chamber to hear a response to his speech — if he is surprised by our amendment. On the other hand, the Deputy First Minister acknowledged the sincerity of Sean Neeson’s motion. Mr Mallon, unlike his Colleague Mr McGrady, who accused us of opportunism, accepts our sincerity and our right to put forward proposals. He claims that Alliance’s seven priorities are inherent in the Programme for Government and referred us to section 3.7 of annex C. He said that his vision was for a peaceful, inclusive society. Of course we share that, but section 3.7 is remarkably vague, with no specific targets or actions whatsoever.
We are not the only Members who have commented on the vagueness of the programme. Mr McCartney said that Sinn Féin and the NIUP both agree on the view we expressed in November about its vagueness. That is possibly some achievement for us. Many commentators, notably the Civic Forum in its response, which we received yesterday, have made the same point. Dr Paisley took time to criticise the presentation, the printing and the quality of the paper — I took time to read the contents. I must ask the Deputy First Minister, who, like most Ministers, is not present in the House — one hopes that one of his deputies will answer for him — what will actually get noticed out of this programme.
Will people notice a specific aspiration, regardless of how vague its target is, or will they notice what he describes as an "inherent aspiration", which has neither a target nor a specific action? If there is nothing specific in the programme, it will not be taken seriously — that is the crucial gap. We highlighted this problem during the debate on the draft programme last November. That gap still exists and our concerns have not been addressed.
This morning Mr McCartney and the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment debated at length the role and structure of the programme. Mr McCartney said that the Alliance Party, the Women’s Coalition and the PUP support the agreement and the Executive. The Women’s Coalition and the PUP can speak for themselves, but I wish to make our position quite clear. As Mr Close said, we endorse the Good Friday Agreement and we support it. It is not perfect, and there are many threads of petty sectarianism that we do not like. However, it is a massive step forward towards the kind of society that we want.
Nevertheless, support for the agreement does not constitute support for the Executive. Mr McCartney would have us believe that the only possible kind of opposition is a strident attempt to tear down the institutions of the agreement and to oppose everything that they stand for. The Alliance Party’s aim is to provide constructive opposition. It will support the agreement but it will also represent the views of those who are neither Unionist nor Nationalist, and who are not easily pigeon-holed by those traditional politicians who wish to categorise people in this way. The Alliance Party will seek to promote an inclusive society.
I was saddened, but not particularly surprised, by the fact that only Ms McWilliams supported Mr Close’s call for the Executive to lead from the front to promote inclusion. There was no support from any of the Executive parties. The Civic Forum also noted the importance of this issue in its response to the programme. In referring to citizenship, it called for the Executive to lead by example and to demonstrate the potential of consensual politics. Would it not be an interesting example if the Executive followed this recommendation?
In proposing the motion, Mr Neeson highlighted the issue of sectarianism in sport. The Deputy First Minister acknowledged that there was a problem, as did the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, who attempted to defend the Executive’s record. However, as Mr McCarthy said, it is over a year since we called for legislation similar to the Football (Offences) Act 1991. A year ago the Minister agreed to look at what was happening, yet there is absolutely nothing in the Programme for Government to address this fundamental, crucial problem. Even in the light of the scenes in Windsor Park last week, the best we can get is condemnation.
But the Executive have power in this place. We are no longer opposition politicians who have to call on direct rule Ministers. The Executive should have done something rather than simply making pious platitudes that had no substance. That was a completely inadequate response.
The Civic Forum also commented on the section in the Programme for Government that deals with community relations. It called for greater recognition of our wider cultural diversity than appears in the programme. It pointed out that there is a surprising lack of detail on how to improve community relations. It stated that there is insufficient detail on the cross-departmental strategy for community relations.
Is it not clear that when we object to the inadequacies of the Programme for Government we are speaking in concert with a much wider group of civic society? We are speaking along with those who seek more from this Executive than we have, and received who seek the full implementation of the vision with those of the agreement, which is not being fulfilled at the moment.
Mr Arthur Doherty — yet another Member who is not present — suggested that the Programme for Government was the Good Friday Agreement in action. This was followed by that lovely little interchange between Mr McElduff and Mrs Nelis, neither of whom is present, which included a description of people marching along with the Programme for Government in one hand and the Good Friday Agreement in the other. If people did this, they would discover that the Programme for Government has considerably more bulk but not necessarily more weight or gravitas.
They would also discover that it fails to live up to the promise of the agreement. The Programme for Government is a step forward but it is not a big enough step. We need to begin the journey towards a more equal society today, not in next year’s Programme for Government. That is why the amendment should be supported.
This has been a very broad debate. As Mr Ford said, we learned about the quality of paper, and we even learned about whose daughter is an artist, and whose daughter is not. It has been broad, and I trust that it has also been valuable. Of course, there were some Members on my right who despaired, who viewed the work as futile. Nonetheless, I trust that there are enough of us in the Executive, the Committees and the Assembly to move forward and prove that we have something in this motion and to carry it through to its conclusion.
We represent the first politicians in 28 years to consider how we govern ourselves, and the decisions that we take affect the citizens who elected us. Of course, this document is aspirational; it lasts for three years. However, it also indicates actions that must be taken. Over 50 Members of the Assembly debated this motion. Some of my ministerial Colleagues also mentioned aspects of the agreement. I will try to answer some of the questions raised and others will receive written answers.
Much was said about public service agreements, which were added to the draft programme after it was introduced in October. Dr Birnie asked whether we had too many targets and whether there was a balance between too high and too low an expectation. We spoke to the Treasury, and we took its comments on board. The issue of public service agreements is a learning experience not only for us but also for those in Government in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Ms McWilliams asked how far behind we were with regard to poverty. She said that we have the answers. Yes, for Scotland and for Wales. I agree that we have to make more progress.
While Mr Maskey supported the Programme for Government and said that it was a very important document, he felt that it fell short and that some work remained to be done. We recognise that.
We were first charged with drawing up public service agreements in October 2000 within a short time frame. To date, the way in which we have developed public service agreements has met with the broad support of those we consulted throughout Northern Ireland. Having drawn up these public service agreements, we would be the first to say that they are not ideal and that further work is required. Indeed, the Programme for Government recognises that a start has been made but that there is still work to do.
There are aims and objectives in the public service agreements that are relatively easy to identify, but there are actions and targets that are more difficult to devise. Through the Departments we are trying to demonstrate that we are making a difference by fulfilling the Programme for Government.
These actions must be precise enough to be linked to spending allocations, which is a difficult exercise because some priorities may require no cash at all. However, the cash spend for 2000 and 2001 will be enough to deliver the targets set for other priorities. The Treasury recognises that this is not an easy exercise. There are pitfalls and actions may be nebulous and difficult to define. Some people might say that they are time-consuming to construct. Everyone involved found it difficult to match the resources to the actions.
Ms McWilliams and other Members said that we need decent policy outcomes, timetables and targets. I agree that targets are important. They are, in essence, performance measures for this Administration. We are in the process of developing a very simple four-part scheme: baselines as to where we are; targets that we wish to achieve; a timescale to achieve those targets; and, above all, a benchmark to indicate what is best standard. Members referred to those today. We are aware of those dynamics and dimensions to targets, and we are in the process of developing them.
Indeed, the overall aim of the PSAs is that targets should be affected by actions. We are trying to make them testable, deliverable, achievable and meaningful. We wish to do that, and we hope to make that difference.
I want to quote Monica McWilliams again. This is the third time that I have made reference to her, so I will give her her first name.
Who said that? It was Jane Morrice — she is here as well.
Monica said that we will not meet some of the targets, and she asked whether we will come back and be honest, upright and open and say why we did not. That is also an important element. This is a process that will be monitored. All those involved in this process will be accountable. Indeed, in monitoring the targets, it may not be such a bad thing if we do not make a target because the process will allow us to ask questions of the Government as to where, why and what we did not achieve. The intrinsic value of the process itself is, therefore, beneficial. That is another reason why I commend this.
Finally, PSAs are about identifying clear actions, the resources associated with those actions, the expected outcomes and the time period in which they are expected. At 4.30 pm — that seems a long time ago — Jane Morrice referred to excellent accountability. We are about trying to deliver excellent accountability.
Let me move to the amendment that was proposed yesterday by the Alliance Party. It "declines to approve". That is a lovely way of saying "No". The Alliance Party, of course, does not like to say "No", but by declining to approve, it is saying "No" to this motion. Why? Because
"it does not properly address the deep divisions and inequalities in this society".
Mr Neeson, in making his proposition yesterday, said that there has never been a greater need for reconciliation. I agree entirely with that. There has never been a greater need for reconciliation than there is now. However, he went on to say that there are only seven measures for dealing with division.
I had some sympathy with Mr McGrady when he said that the Alliance Party has been slightly opportunistic. I recognise and share his concerns to make progress — I genuinely do. However, it is naïve to think that we can make that progress some very quick fix by producing a document.
A central element of the Programme for Government deals with equality, investing in education and skills, securing a competitive economy, and ensuring better health. Those will represent the core components of tackling division. Dr Farren, who has just entered the Chamber, made reference to that aspect. He referred to the taskforce that was being set up, which he would be chairing. My Colleague Danny Kennedy also referred to that. He said that education is a vibrant aspect necessary for the economy and well-being of Northern Ireland. All of those represent a package that will, it is to be hoped, heal the divisions.
I shall refer quickly to some of Mr Neeson’s comments. He said that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 needs to be dealt with. We must not overlook the fact that the responsibility for justice in Northern Ireland resides with the Northern Ireland Office. It makes no sense to call for the rejection of a Programme for Government on the basis of something for which we have no responsibility.
Mr Neeson mentioned flags and graffiti. It is important that both communities are able to celebrate their culture and identity. There is a Northern Ireland community that has many facets and which can recognise culture, identity and diversity — as was seen very clearly at the Odyssey complex two months ago when many thousands witnessed a very enjoyable event. The Council of Europe defines those aspects very clearly, and Dr Adamson referred to it earlier. We are about reflecting that in the business of government.
Mr Neeson also said that more resources should be available for community relations. I assure the Member that £5·5 million, out of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister’s budget of £28 million, is allocated for community relations. There is also £3·4 million from the Department of Education and more money from Peace II.
Northern Ireland has had 30 years of violence. The fact that the Assembly is debating the Programme for Government represents a healing of the divisions and a coming together of the community that no Programme for Government can show. Words are not enough. Action is here today.
When you peel away the rhetoric of some of my Colleagues on the right, the pledge of office states that all must partake in the Programme for Government and that all must act within it. What better example of healing community division is there than the Democratic Unionist Party’s Social Development Minister, Mr Morrow, saying "I will target areas most deprived. My Department will do this"? Those are the very aspects that Members opposite have been calling for. And that is from a DUP Minister. [Interruption]
It always hurts them to hear these things.
The implementation of the Belfast Agreement subscribes in the fullest manner possible — and I say this to the Alliance Party — to all rights and obligations to deal with Northern Ireland’s divided society. That will manifest itself.
Economic issues were also raised over the past two days. Mr Roche said that the Programme for Government had no analysis of problems facing the Departments. In the section of the Programme for Government entitled "Securing a Competitive Economy" one will find an assessment of the difficulties relating to the infrastructure and the economy of Northern Ireland. The challenges that need to be met in respect of globalisation are also stated. Northern Ireland, with its population of 1·8 million, is very small compared to the rest of the United Kingdom, never mind to Europe and the world.
George Savage and Dr Paisley raised some agriculture issues — very important, sensitive and serious at this time. The process of rural proofing will be steered by an interdepartmental group. It will be chaired by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and it will have representatives from all Departments. Each Department will be required to rural proof its own policies. The early retirement scheme will be examined. I am glad that my Colleague George Savage is still in the Chamber — he will be mindful of what happened before.
He has not forgotten it, nor have I. Mr Poots raised the issue of victims. That is another sensitive subject that must be referred to. We accept that there is not much cash — only £420,000 — in the Victims Unit of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. We anticipate increasing that, but £6·7 million is expected to come through Peace II, and £12 million has been announced through Mr Ingram, the Northern Ireland Office Minister.
I have not forgotten about the fishermen and the tie-up scheme that the Member mentioned the other day. I am liaising — wearing my constituency hat — with the fishermen in South Down. You can strike that off if you wish, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I did say that I was wearing my constituency hat.
Let us come to money — the fluidity that makes government work. I can understand the comments made by some Members. Mr McGrady said that we must pressurise central Government to get funds for our roads. Dr Paisley said that the rural roads need to be attended to. Mr Campbell talked about the decades of underinvestment. Ms de Brún said that the inherited budget of £2 billion is not enough.
Mr McCartney, who, I am glad to see, has entered the Chamber, made reference using economic arguments to twist the reality when he said that economic power is limited to the cake you share. Let us try to analyse that. Is he saying that we should have power to raise taxes because we do not have enough money? Is he aware that regions such as the Länder in Germany, though they do not raise taxes, are very economically viable? Is he saying that we should raise marginal taxes? Is he aware that in Scotland, for example, where there is a £14 billion Government purse, that would raise taxes of only £300 million? In Northern Ireland 1p on the rates would raise only £50 million. The point of taxation, if that is what he is on about, is that it is a marginal cost, which tests whether the Government that makes that decision is spending wisely.
Does Mr McCartney realise that we are a devolved region in the United Kingdom within a single fiscal unit? Unfortunately, I will leave Mr McCartney with one word and say that, as always, he is a Cassandra — a prophet of doom.
Globalisation of economic power is limited. OPEC and oil prices, the USA and its economy, currency and currency fluctuations all affect our economy. Mr McCartney may be — may be — a good lawyer, but a lesson or two in economics would not go amiss.
Mr Haughey and I are jointly responsible for bringing the Programme for Government forward to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I thank Mr Haughey, but, more importantly, I thank Will Haire and other officials in the Economic Policy Unit for the work that they have done.
We work in conjunction with the Minister of Finance and Personnel and the officials in the Department of Finance and Personnel. I thank them for the Programme for Government that has been brought to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
I have sought to answer some of the points but not all of them. We have had a wide ranging debate about many things that I mentioned at the beginning. The programme that is before Members provides a framework. It is a public document. It is a working document. It is an unfolding and developing document. I therefore ask that the Assembly reject the amendment proposed by the leader of the Alliance Party and endorse the Programme for Government as agreed by the Executive. I commend the motion to Members.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 5; Noes 46.
Ian Adamson, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Tom Hamilton, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Mick Murphy, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, George Savage, John Tierney.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 47; Noes 27.
Ian Adamson, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Baírbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Reg Empey, Séan Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Tom Hamilton, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alban Maginness, Séamus Mallon, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Eugene McMenamin, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Mick Murphy, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O'Connor, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, George Savage, John Tierney.
Eileen Bell, Paul Berry, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Séamus Close, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, David Ford, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Kieran McCarthy, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Séan Neeson, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this Assembly endorses the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive.
We had a happening here which I hope will never be repeated in this House. An attempt was made to keep a section of the Assembly from registering its vote. This is very serious. If people on the other side think that it is a laugh, that is their democracy. If two Members say "No" the House has to divide. If the great House of Commons divides for two people, this devolved Assembly must do likewise.
I intend raising this issue with the Speaker. An attempt was made to take away the right of individuals to vote.