I will answer today’s questions on behalf of the First Minister and as Deputy First Minister, with Mr Trimble’s prior agreement.
A paper setting out a framework for the development for Northern Ireland of a co-ordinated, cohesive and strategic approach to the European Union is being finalised with Departments. It is anticipated that the paper will be considered by the Executive early in the new year, prior to discussion with the Committee of the Centre.
The Department’s own corporate plan suggested that the strategic policy document would be ready in July 2001. In response to the Committee of the Centre, the Department indicated that the document would be ready by autumn 2001. We are now told that it will be ready in January 2002, almost six months behind schedule. Can the Minister assure the House that the document will be ready by that date? Does the delay show that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is not taking European Union interests seriously enough?
The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister takes European interests very seriously. The strategy paper is designed to enable the whole Executive, not just my Department, to pursue Northern Ireland interests effectively, by establishing overall priorities for European work. That will assist the development of the policy priorities set out in the Programme for Government.
If we are serious about using this strategy as a means of ensuring a co-ordinated and cohesive effort across all Departments, we must ensure their full involvement. That in itself has been a complex process. Departments must deal with different issues and different levels of activity. It is inevitable that delays will occur in the drawing up of a strategy to cover every Department. Departments face other pressures and distractions in addition to this paper.
Preparations for the euro will depend on the likelihood of its introduction here soon. The Administration have two levels of interest in the matter. First, a ministerial group is meeting in London to deal with administrative issues that the introduction of the euro might present for the Government. We are also examining the impact of the euro on businesses. That will involve studying the impact of our status as a non-euro area that shares a land border with an area where the euro is being used in trade. That involves the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, in particular, because it deals most directly with businesses.