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With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 4, 9 and 14 together.
The outline business case for the proposed multi-sports stadium, together with a corresponding business case for the Maze project, for which OFMDFM is responsible, have been closely examined by the Department of Finance and Personnel. The current First Minister, in his former role as Minister of Finance and Personnel, provided advice to ministerial colleagues on his assessment of the stadium and the overall Maze project.
The issue of the multi-sports stadium, together with the overall regeneration of the Maze site, has still to be considered by the Executive. That is a further reason why it is important for the Executive to meet as soon as possible. The opportunity for Northern Ireland to host soccer matches as part of the 2012 Olympics is clearly contingent on the availability of a fit-for-purpose stadium, although that would not necessarily require the building of a multi-sports stadium.
I thank the Minister for his response. He may not have heard the First Minister earlier when he set out the options for the future, which were: a single stadium at the Maze, a single stadium elsewhere, or upgrades to existing stadiums. The First Minister ruled out the do-nothing option. Will the Minister now rule out the idea of upgrading three elderly stadiums in order to provide three expensive elderly stadiums, and give a firm commitment to a single stadium for all sports, as a sign of a shared future?
I was not present when the First Minister spoke earlier, but it is self-evident that those are the options. As we stand, in October 2008, I am in a position to go to the Executive with a paper in order to clear up the uncertainty that has surrounded the issue. For that reason, I want an Executive meeting to take place as early as this Thursday. None of that takes me beyond where I want to go for the moment. The honourable Member invites me to declare what the new and ongoing position would be, but he would be the first to concede that I should do it according to the established protocols of the Assembly.
I am doing what I should be doing: consulting my Executive colleagues, then consulting the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, and then come before the House — in that order. When I entered office in June, I said that I wanted to reveal when the uncertainty would end and to make progress in the autumn. We are well into autumn. If the Executive does not meet, I will have to examine other ways of taking the situation forward, but we have clear protocols by which I want to abide.
I am one of those who still hope to see a national stadium at the Maze. Does the Minister agree that the problems in agreeing a way forward on the Maze project are not entirely financial; nor are they solely related to the business plan or even to the recent impasse over Executive meetings? The problems stem from the original disagreement concerning the inability of the Minister’s party, and presumably the Minister himself, to accept the concept of a conflict-transformation centre on the Maze site.
I hope that the Member heard my initial response about the business case for the Maze project, which was closely examined by the Department of Finance and Personnel and by the former First Minister. The Member mentioned the conflict-transformation initiative, but the issue remains — whether there was to be a conflict-transformation initiative or not — that there are serious questions about the funding of the Maze project. That does not mean that it is inconceivable that the Maze project will proceed; however, three Departments expressed concerns about the business case. There is no disagreement in my party about the way forward, because I have yet to bring the proposal through the Executive, to the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure and to the Assembly. When that happens, the honourable Member and others will see the unity on the outcome of those discussions.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but the OFMDFM Committee — which I understand has overall responsibility for the development of the Maze/Long Kesh site — was told some months ago that in order for any development to be on-site in time for the London Olympics the application should have been lodged by November of last year. We heard the First Minister sharing his concerns about construction jobs, and we have also been told that 10,000 jobs are at stake. Is it the case that whenever a decision is made on the Maze/Long Kesh project, the DUP will change the Minister or will this Minister actually make a decision?
The honourable Member issues a challenge on taking a decision. I said, within weeks of taking office, that the decision had to be taken in the autumn. It is now autumn and I am ready to take the decision, but I need an Executive meeting. I hope that the honourable Member follows the logic of the argument. If an Executive meeting is held on Thursday, I am ready to put a paper to the Executive this Thursday to proceed. The Member referred to the challenge of the 2012 Olympic Games. That will be a challenge, but it is not at all beyond the bounds of possibility that if we take a decision now — which I am ready to do — we will have a stadium for 2012. We will have a stadium if we take that decision now — which, as I say, I am ready, prepared, and able to do — but I need an Executive meeting to process the issue and to set in motion the choreography that I have outlined. We need the meeting, and, I hope, we will have it.
My discussions with the three sporting bodies involved in the Maze project were straightforward. I told each body that I knew its previous position and asked whether that position remained the same. I then asked the three bodies what their preferred second option would be. As a result of those discussions, and others that I have had, I am in a position to furnish my Executive colleagues with a paper that should end the uncertainty. I can then begin significant and substantial progress towards ensuring that the requirements of all three sports are met. That is my aim and objective, which will — hopefully — be achieved sooner rather than later.
The Minister has partly answered my question and answered the critics, but I will read my question anyway. Is the Minister’s prevarication and failure to make an announcement on the Maze project directly due to political pressure from Sinn Féin as part of ongoing negotiations between that party and his? Does he agree that part of the finance allocation for the Maze project should immediately be redirected to upgrade existing sports facilities and events, such as the North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix?
I understand the honourable Member’s frustration, which is shared by many people. However, I reiterate that I took office in June and, within three weeks, said that I wanted to meet all the governing bodies of the sports involved in the Maze project, which I did before the summer. I then said that I wanted to make a decision in the autumn; it is now the autumn, and I am ready to make that decision. As per the rules that we operate under, I must bring a paper on the issue to an Executive meeting before I make a decision, which I am ready to do on Thursday. If that happens, we are immediately in business. I hope that the Executive meeting is held on Thursday, and we will be in business immediately thereafter.