Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
The proposed Maze/Long Kesh development is the largest and most complex project to be considered in recent years. Everyone has a major interest in ensuring that the lands at Maze/Long Kesh are used to benefit the entire community.
The extensive programme to demolish buildings and structures is almost complete. A first phase of substantial remediation work, which will remove contamination — such as diesel oil spillages — at part of the site, is almost complete, and we hope to embark on a second phase shortly. The demolition and remediation work is essential in order to prepare the site for any kind of development. The deputy First Minister and I are considering proposals for the development of the former prison based on the 2006 master plan, and we will report to the Executive when we reach a conclusion.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Given that the Long Kesh/Maze development should be under construction by now, does the First Minister agree that the delay has cost construction jobs, cost us the opportunity to stage major events in the 2012 Olympics, and endangered our involvement in the World Police and Fire Games?
That is all very well, but the accounting officers in OFMDFM and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) indicated that they could not sign the project off with a clean bill of health in terms of value for money. They agreed that the Executive would have to consider extraneous, non-financial issues in order to justify the project. Some blame should be placed on direct rule Ministers, who took the process out of sync and approached bidders before the completion of the business-case process.
However, OFMDFM is determined to resolve the Maze/Long Kesh site difficulties. I do not accept that jobs have been lost. Any building on the site must be constructed and developed in the interest of the surrounding area and Northern Ireland as a whole. First-class development of the site is important, and its various components are being considered. Moreover, construction jobs will be created in the building of a stadium or stadia, whether on that site or elsewhere. Furthermore, the operation of that stadium or stadia will create more jobs. Jobs are not lost, but a decision must be taken on the issue. Therefore, I hope that progress will be made.
That is by far the best way. Needless to say, there is a requirement on OFMDFM, because it has ministerial responsibility for the site. There is a ministerial responsibility on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to introduce proposals that meet the value-for-money and affordability requirements that the Department of Finance and Personnel set.
The process requires work to be done outside the Executive, but by far the best way in which to resolve any differences is to meet around the Executive table with ministerial colleagues.
I would be straying outside my ministerial responsibility were I to responded to question. The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure has indicated that he wants to make a statement to the Assembly on those issues, but he first wants to take the views of Executive colleagues into consideration, and he wants them to be aware of the proposals. It would be wrong for me to usurp his position and pre-empt what he might say.
The options, however, are obvious: a stadium could be built at the Maze site; a stadium could be built elsewhere; several stadia could be built elsewhere; or nothing could happen at all. I hope that the final option is not one that is being seriously considered, given the state of our major sports stadia in Northern Ireland. I hope that options for a national stadium or numerous stadia are being considered, because those will provide jobs.