The Secret Garden is an extremely worthwhile programme that offers a wide range of opportunities for adults with learning disabilities. It provides an important person-centred environment which helps people to acquire the skills necessary to secure employment and reach their personal potential. There is a duty of care on all those involved to ensure that this issue is handled sensitively.
Praxis Care was the subject of a debate in the Chamber on Monday 28 April in which all parties acknowledged the work carried out by Praxis Care and called on the Secretary of State to explore all possible avenues to ensure that the employment provided and work carried out by Praxis at Hillsborough Castle remains on site. Although we, as OFMDFM, have not held direct discussions with the NIO on the matter, I understand that the Health Minister met the chief executive of Praxis Care and the Secretary of State to discuss the matter. It is our hope that the situation can be resolved to the satisfaction of all those involved.
As the Member will be aware, the disability strategy has a number of elements to it. The purpose of the strategy is to set out a high-level policy framework to give guidance to Departments to make sure that they carry through their responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have identified a number of signature programmes already within that strategy.
I met Praxis Care, and I visited the Secret Garden. The Member will agree that the 16 people with learning disabilities working there depend very much on that site in everyday life. They and their families feel that they need that for the social interaction it gives them. We should explore all avenues to ensure that those people are kept on that site. I have also contacted the NIO and the Secretary of State to express that. We should do all we can to ensure that the 16 individuals are kept on site and their jobs kept open.
As I said in my previous answer, I brought the debate to the Floor of the House. There was all-party support for the motion. There is a responsibility on the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that the employment of those individuals continues. Also, Praxis Care has invested up to £400,000 in the site. There is a responsibility on the Secretary of State and the NIO to ensure that, if they are relocated, that investment is returned in some way. It is only fair and just that that should happen.
We know, through our discussions with the NIO and the Secretary of State, it is not as though the reception area and the coffee shop facility will not be needed in any future plan and development of the site. The responsibility of the Executive is to put pressure on the NIO and the Secretary of State, who are ultimately responsible for this site, to ensure not only that the money that Praxis Care has invested is not lost but, more importantly, that the 16 people who have learning difficulties remain working on the site. It is very important for their social interaction. When you go there and visit the people concerned, it is very clear that it means so much to them every day. We need to ensure that the Secretary of State and the NIO treat this sensitively and that the people who work there remain on the site.
In OFMDFM, we have responsibility for the disability strategy and to ensure that other Departments fulfil their responsibilities under that. The disability strategy was agreed by the Executive in 2013 and implements the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is to ensure that we take forward the work that improves the lives of children and adults with a disability. I believe that the strategy covers all types and forms of disability for all ages: children, young people, adults and older people. Our responsibility in OFMDFM is to monitor other Departments and their actions, and we will definitely take that forward through monitoring and evaluation.