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It is worth pointing out that the cross-sector advisory forum was set up as a result of the discussions about which Mr O’Loan spoke. A number of people whom we met said that it would be valuable to have such a group during the crisis. We took that on board and responded directly to it.
Mr O’Loan spoke about using the political intellect of other parties. The SDLP is an Executive party. Although some of its Members seem to forget that from time to time, no doubt, the Minister for Social Development reminds her party that it is represented on the Executive. At all times, the SDLP can bring proposals to, and assist, the Executive.
The deputy First Minister shares my views about wider consultation with political parties. When, as First Minister and deputy First Minister, we faced the challenge of the murders that were carried out by dissident republicans, we had a difficult decision to take on whether we should be in Northern Ireland or whether we should go to the United States to continue our business there. On that occasion, we held a meeting of the party leaders. The party leaders gave us full support; they were positive and wanted to ensure that we had a united front at such a time of crisis.
The deputy First Minister agrees that those kinds of meetings are valuable. Perhaps we can continue those meetings as we face another crisis — the financial crisis — and something useful can come out of them. It is not part of my make-up to want to disagree or to have people disagree with me. I want to find a wider consensus on how we move forward, if that can be found.
Proposals are put before the Executive at meeting after meeting after meeting, and the greater the consensus that we can get on those proposals, the better. If unanimity can be achieved when the proposals come to the House, Northern Ireland will be seen as being stronger in the wider community.