Deprived Communities

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 30 September 2002.

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Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin 3:30, 30 September 2002

2. asked the Minister for Social Development what action he has taken, in the past 3 months, to assist socially deprived communities, address the legacy of conflict and encourage reconciliation.

(AQO 184/02)

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have recently announced several programmes and measures that are aimed specifically at assisting the most socially deprived communities in Northern Ireland. For example, in July, my Department announced a £12 million European Union Peace II funding package, which will benefit 12 communities in Northern Ireland that suffer high levels of multiple deprivation and the worst effects of recent troubles.

That funding is in addition to the £11 million URBAN II funding package for inner north Belfast that was announced earlier this year. Moreover, under the auspices of the North Belfast Community Action Project, my Department has been contributing to developing a plan of short-, medium- and long-term actions to address social and community issues there, particularly actions that are aimed at building and strengthening community capacity. Specific housing strategies are being developed to provide decent homes for those living in the worst areas of conflict. Furthermore, £1·5 million was allocated recently to projects in the most deprived areas of Londonderry, two of which aim to address the legacy of conflict and encourage reconciliation.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

Thank you, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Will the Minister meet representatives of the voluntary and community sector in Omagh, the county town of Tyrone? Will he listen to the experiences of groups, such as Focus (Forum in Omagh Community Understanding and Support) and Omagh Community Support Forum — amalgams of town-based and rural community groups — and the Omagh Women’s Area Network, about funding difficulties and discuss measures aimed at building their capacity?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am aware of the contribution that the voluntary and community sector makes in delivering vital services to some of the most socially and economically deprived communities in Northern Ireland.

I recently met representatives of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland — formerly the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust — and I have met the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and other community organisations that provide advice and assistance throughout Northern Ireland. I am always happy to talk to representatives of the community sector.

One of the messages that people from Omagh would undoubtedly bring to a meeting would be similar to the message that such groups could bring from other parts of the Province — namely, that the community and voluntary sector is currently under some pressure. However, we are working as hard as possible to try to alleviate that through long-term strategies and also by making a bid for Executive programme funds to secure extra funding for the sector. We will continue to work on that, and I shall be very happy to meet community and voluntary sector representatives from Omagh or elsewhere.

Photo of Eugene McMenamin Eugene McMenamin Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister agree that the most efficient weapon to deal with conflict is the existence of democratic institutions? Does he agree that those who wish to pull them down are the best friends of paramilitaries who want anything but reconciliation?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Mr Deputy Speaker, the Member’s question goes somewhat beyond the subject before us. However, with your permission, I will nevertheless be very happy to answer it. Before I come to the more political aspects, I would like to put on record in the Assembly that, in the coming months, as well as the measures which I outlined previously, I expect to publish a new urban regeneration strategy for Northern Ireland generally, which will provide a new framework for targeting resources at neighbourhoods suffering high levels of deprivation and social exclusion. I expect to announce shortly the Peace II funding package that I referred to earlier. We have also secured funding for a new community outreach programme. Those are practical measures which demonstrate our commitment to helping those who are most socially deprived in Northern Ireland.

As for the Member’s rather silly comments, he would be better spending his time concentrating on those sorts of issues and trying to develop truly democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. If he believes for one minute that what is unacceptable in the Irish Republic — where the Government and the leading parties have said that they are not prepared to have representatives of an armed terrorist group in government — should be forced on us here, he should talk to some more of his friends down South and see what the difference is.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

The Minister has confirmed the contribution of voluntary and community groups in socially deprived communities, not only in west Tyrone but all over the Province. What moneys are available for such voluntary and community groups to assist the point of view which the Minister has put forward?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

My Department utilises various funding programmes to support the regional and local community infrastructure in Northern Ireland. There is support for regional voluntary and community bodies such as the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Association of Independent Advice Centres.

There is also, of course, the district councils’ community support programme, of which, as a local councillor, the Member will be aware. That in turn funds local voluntary and community groups, advice centres and resource centres. We have increased funding to that programme to allow local councils to make the decisions on where the resources should go. I believe in local democracy, and that is what local democracy really means — letting people have the decision on where such funding should go.

We also have programmes in place to support active citizenship and volunteering. The active community initiative was launched by the Prime Minister in January 1999, and its aim is to help rebuild a sense of community throughout the United Kingdom by encouraging and supporting all forms of community involvement. We also have EU measures under the programme for building sustainable prosperity. In addition, my Department has secured funding of £3 million for a new outreach programme which has been developed in conjunction with other Departments; eligible activities will include one-stop shops for advice on such issues as funding, exchanges and secondments. Priority will be given to those areas of highest social and economic need.