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T2. Mr McGrath asked the Minister of Finance whether, as the key custodian of public finances, he is satisfied that the social investment fund (SIF) represents good value for public money and upholds the standard of good governance that the Executive have pledged, especially given that SIF was given a substantial allocation in the June monitoring round. (AQT 347/16-21)
I cannot hear often enough that I am the chief steward or custodian of public finances, but, of course, it is a job for us all — that is why we are discussing it — to make sure that the money we hold for the public is spent with an emphasis on value for money at all times. I am definitely in a different camp from those who expressed certain views about the social investment fund in the earlier debate. I am on record as saying that, for me, it was too slow, but I now see the money coming out.
I have stood in Sandy Row with some of those who have made a break from a very difficult past. I do not believe that they were the only people to blame for that difficult past, but I admire those who stand up and say, "The way forward is through wholly democratic and peaceful means". I detect in some of this a bias against working-class areas. For my part, I will defend the SIF — I heard the debate earlier — and I will also work to ensure that the money gets out the door more quickly, because I agree with the Member that there have been too many delays and hold-ups.
I invite the Member to come to Sandy Row with me. If some of the people we will meet there had not made a break with the past, many more people would have died in this jurisdiction. These are people who resisted the wish of others to retaliate, if that is the correct word, when British soldiers were killed in Massereene, prison officers were murdered and police officers were murdered. They exercised — Martin McAleese, then senator, who spent a night on the phone to former loyalist paramilitaries urging them to follow the path of peace, has spoken about this. It is easy to mock, to deride, to have a class bias against people from Sandy Row and other areas. For my part, I stand with the peacemakers, but I also say this: if anyone, whether a white-collar or a working-class criminal, misuses one cent or one penny of European funding, central government funding or the SIF, I will make sure that they are brought to book. Just because someone has a past different from that of the Member does not mean that the person is not an upstanding member of society. I stand with those who are moving into the future. The Member — I heard this earlier — wants to push people back into their corners or boxes. There are no more corners or boxes in Belfast; it is a shared city, and I hope that we will all grow and share it together.