Further Consideration Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:30 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin 1:30 pm, 26th January 2009

It is abundantly clear to me that those gaps exist already. The OFMDFM Committee heard a wealth of evidence that exposed clearly the fact that the current programmes and policies are not delivering. There are programmes and policies that replicate the failed outcomes of the past. That is precisely the reason why the Committee, in its report on the inquiry into child poverty, concluded that OFMDFM, as lead office, should:

“have a role in challenging departmental Delivery Agreements to ensure the relevance and robustness of departmental targets and actions”.

I will repeat that. OFMDFM should:

“have a role in challenging departmental Delivery Agreements to ensure the relevance and robustness of departmental targets and actions”.

In fact, the Committee went even further and recommended that OFMDFM, along with DFP, should consider the introduction of a system of financial incentives and penalties to ensure that cross-departmental priorities, such as child poverty, are delivered on.

I find it strange that parties that endorsed those recommendations in the Committee now seem to feel that OFMDFM should have no role in identifying and implementing cross-departmental priorities. It is also strange that those parties argue that OFMDFM should not challenge any Department’s ability to tackle poverty yet, in the report on the inquiry into child poverty, they recommended that OFMDFM should take on that role.

Similarly, amendment No 7 would restrict the ability of the Bill to make a genuine and swift intervention by providing financial assistance to tackle poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation when funding arrangements are unsatisfactory.

I must admit that I find amendment No 8 curious, but I am sure that some of the opposing parties will explain it. On the one hand, we have parties in the Chamber complaining about the alleged plot to undermine the influence and authority of individual Ministers, yet the original six-month time frame would allow sufficient time for consultation and engagement with the relevant Minister and to get the approval of the Executive and the Assembly. I oppose that amendment.

Amendment No 9 is entirely unnecessary. It is part of any Committee’s normal role and remit to scrutinise the work of relevant Departments. Any Committee can ask for the kind of notification that is referred to in the amendment at any time. The Committees should be doing that anyway, and I would have grave concerns if the SDLP feels that it needs additional legislation to carry out the role that it should have been performing for the past 18 months.

Amendment No 10 is also unnecessary, because the Bill ensures that all potential schemes must be agreed at the Executive, thereby allowing all Ministers to make their views known.

My objection to amendment No 11 is similar to my objection to amendment No 9 in that any statutory Committee can request such a report at any stage. Not only that, it is the responsibility of the Committees to get an update on the progress of any relevant report, programme, project or policy. That is what MLAs — particularly as Committee members — are paid to do; therefore, they should be getting on with their job.

In rejecting those amendments, I find it regrettable that the SDLP, the Alliance party and the UUP seem intent on trying to take over the Bill — which is, clearly, designed to tackling poverty, social exclusion and deprivation, providing much-needed assistance —