Agriculture and Rural Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 6 June 2011.

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Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin 3:15, 6 June 2011

6. asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for an update on the implementation of ‘A Strategy to Develop the Recreational and Social Use of Our Forests’.  (AQO 21/11-15)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Since the publication in July 2009 of the recreation and social use strategy, the Forest Service has been working closely in partnership with district councils, public sector organisations and groups such as the National Trust to explore opportunities to promote recreation, social use and tourism in our forests. As a result, several significant projects are being progressed. Work is almost complete with the National Trust to develop a multi-purpose trail network at Castleward forest to include cycling, pony-trekking and walking routes. That project will add significantly to the Castleward experience and will be officially launched in late June. Similarly, the Forest Service continues to work with Down and Newry and Mourne district councils and the Tourist Board to develop proposals for significant mountain-biking challenge projects at Castlewellan forest park and Rostrevor park. If those projects proceed, they will represent a significant recreation and tourism product in the Mourne forests.

In addition, the NI Tourist Board and the Forest Service are jointly project-managing a study to assess the existing and potential tourism development opportunities available from our forests. That will inform the Forest Service planning review process and assist NITB and other partners who support the case for tourism developments in forests. The Forest Service is continuing to work with a range of public sector and private partners to explore recreation and leisure opportunities. I believe that there is potential to develop our forests for recreation, leisure and tourism and will ensure that work continues to realise those opportunities.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

How does the Forest Service plan to further develop recreation in Fermanagh forest?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

The recreation and social use strategy commits the Forest Service to develop business partnerships with suitable public and private sector providers to secure a more diverse range of facilities and attractions for visitors to our forests. The Global Geopark in County Fermanagh is a good example of what can be achieved through partnership agreements. There, the Forest Service works closely with Fermanagh District Council to establish management agreements for the improvement of recreation and education facilities on Forest Service land within the geopark area. That has resulted in the development of five tourism walks, which were opened in September 2010.

Photo of Karen McKevitt Karen McKevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

Can the Minister confirm that there is money available for the implementation of the strategy?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Yes, there is money available that accompanies the strategy.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP 3:30, 6 June 2011

I thank the Minister for her answer and congratulate her on her appointment. I would like to know how you will pull together everything that happens in forests. In Tardree, for example, some diverse things happen, such as quad biking, horse riding, rambling, shooting and birdwatching, as well as one or two unsavoury things. How will you pull it all together so that all, or nearly all, of those activities can happen in the same forest?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat. Obviously not everything will be suitable for every area. It will take a partnership approach. We have to get a balance between recreation and leisure in forests and maintaining the forests. It will be a balancing act all the way. Every forest is unique, and work on each will be taken forward differently.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I will take Mr Campbell’s point of order and then Mr Allister’s.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (International Development), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I ask that you review the video footage of a supplementary question to question 1 to the First Minister. A Back-Bench Member close to the door was attempting to pose a question to the junior Minister when an Executive Minister entered the Chamber, obstructing the view of the First Minister. A precedent has been set regarding this issue in recent days. Apologies have not been very forthcoming from that particular quarter; maybe there will be one in future, not just for this but for other more serious matters.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I hear what the Member has said, and I appreciate his point of order. I have warned all Members that it is important that, when Members are on their feet, another Member, even a Minister, should not walk in front of that Member.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Whether it is the deputy First Minister, the First Minister or any other Minister, they should not do what they are doing. Fair warning has been given on this issue in the House for some time.

I will take Mr Allister’s point of order.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

My point of order concerns a different matter, but, as I am the Member referred to in the previous point of order, I will make the comment that I am grateful for the protection. It is a pity, Mr Speaker, that your protection does not extend to the Great Hall. Some people have a habit of pushing in front of others out there as well.

I understand that the tradition is that questions for oral answer that are not reached are answered in writing. If a Member asks a supplementary question that is patently not answered, as with the question that I asked Mr Bell, is that question also answered in writing subsequently?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

A supplementary question is not answered in writing to any Member. The Member will not be happy with what I am going to say. I appreciate the issue that he has raised, but it has been raised in the Chamber for some time. Members may feel disappointed with the answers that they get from a Minister, but I have continually told the House that I, as Speaker, will not sit in judgement on how a Minister answers a question. If a Minister totally refuses to answer a question, I can deal with that issue under Standing Orders. The Member and other Members will be disappointed as we go through this term, but, as I have said, it is not up to the Speaker to sit in judgement on how a Minister delivers an answer to a question.