Further Consideration Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:45 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 1:45 pm, 26th January 2009

I rise to give the Alliance Party’s position on the second group of amendments. I will preface my party’s response to those amendments by reiterating its stance on two particular matters.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClarty] in the Chair)

The First Minister refers continually to his frustration that my party does not listen to him. Mr Moutray also expressed his concern. It may be news to Members on the DUP Benches that, unlike them, the rest of the House can still exercise its right to hear what the First Minister says and not agree with him. However frustrating or novel that concept might be for them, to hear is not to obey. It is worth putting on record that the Assembly has free thought and speech: long may that continue.

The other issue is the differences between parties’ positions on clauses 1 and 2. The Alliance Party’s position on clause 2 is quite different to those of the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. Had Ms Anderson conceded the politeness and courtesy of giving way, her misapprehension that the Alliance Party supports all of the amendments in the second group could have been corrected. Clearly, however, Ms Anderson does not believe that she needs correction on any matter.

Clause 2 deals with a cross-cutting theme for which OFMDFM already has direct departmental responsibility. The policy drivers for tackling poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation already exist in OFMDFM. That is its specific duty. Therefore, my party does not consider clause 2 to be a power grab, but rather an attempt to deal with the failure of all Departments to co-ordinate on the delivery of a cohesive agenda.

During the past few weeks, I have acknowledged repeatedly, both in the Committee and in debates in the Chamber, that there are major difficulties in delivery with regard to those issues because functional responsibility often rests with other Departments or multiple Departments, which leads to tensions between them on issues, such as those to which Mrs Kelly referred — childcare for school-aged children, for example. That gives rise to significant problems.

Martina Anderson rightly referred to the fact that the matter was discussed by the Committee and that it recommended that it should be highlighted. However, she failed to understand or convey the subtlety of that discussion. It is quite right that the Committee recognised the potential need for financial levers for the delivery of considered cross-cutting themes. However, it did not agree that clause 2 was the right mechanism by which to do that.

In fact, junior Minister Donaldson and junior Minister Kelly tried repeatedly to convince the Committee that no additional levers are required and that the status quo is sufficient. The Committee was not convinced. Subsequently, it stated in its report that those levers might be necessary. I recognise the need for OFMDFM controls of those cross-cutting themes. My query is whether they might also be needed for many other cross-cutting themes — community relations, equality and sustainability, for example.

My party’s consistent position is that clause 2 is not unsound in principle. It welcomes the fact that the First Minister and the deputy First Minister have attempted to tackle that capacity gap. However, it wants to ensure that the entire range of cross-cutting themes is considered fully for inclusion in such a clause and that the entire range of potential levers that can be exerted by OFMDFM and other Departments is considered. That is why my party called for that particular clause to be taken back and be subject to a full Committee Stage.

That is a subtle difference in the positions of the different parties.

I will now speak about the amendments in group 2. Amendment No 4 is largely a repetition of last week’s debate, and the point has already been made. We have no principled objection to amendment No 4, and we have already put on record our position that the Executive should act jointly. However, in the context of what has already been debated at Consideration Stage, we are not sure that amendment No 4 adds anything of substance. At Consideration Stage, my main concern was that those Ministers whose parties do not form a majority in the Executive would have precious little protection. The insertion of “Executive” into the Bill does not give those Ministers any additional protection; that is unfortunate, but it is fact.

We are not in favour of amendment No 5. We have recognised that OFMDFM already has a responsibility for cross-cutting themes, so we do not accept that exceptional circumstances must be proven for OFMDFM to be able to act on issues of social exclusion, deprivation and patterns of need. Indeed, that would be a reduction in the powers held by OFMDFM.