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Fresh Start Panel Report: D2

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance 2:00 pm, 7th November 2016

2. Ms Armstrong asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to outline the specific proposals and methods of evaluation that have been developed to meet recommendation D2 of the Fresh Start panel report on the 'Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups' to measurably reduce segregation in education and housing and set ambitious targets and milestones to achieve measurable progress as quickly as possible. (AQO 568/16-21)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The Executive action plan, which was published in July, sets out how we intend to take forward and implement all the recommendations in the three-person panel report, including arrangements for reporting progress. On good relations, we are committed to building on existing strategies and will give them ongoing consideration. Together: Building a United Community includes the establishment of 10 shared education campuses and the creation of 10 new shared housing schemes, and we are making good progress on them. Five shared education campuses are being progressed at the Moy, Limavady, Ballycastle, Brookeborough and Duneane/Moneynick. Following a third call for applications, we expect to announce the successful projects in May 2017. Under Delivering Social Change, we have a £25 million project to incentivise shared education partnerships between schools and to enhance opportunities for children and young people to learn together regardless of their religious or cultural background. Some 314 schools are engaged in 134 partnerships, and a further call for applications has been made. The shared neighbourhoods programme is also progressing well. Two schemes at Ballynafoy Close on the Ravenhill Road and Manse Court in Saintfield have been completed. A further two schemes are near completion and six others are under construction. The Executive will consider in due course how to build on this significant success.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

I thank the First Minister for her answer. What impact has the withholding by the UK Government of their contribution to funding for the action plan in the report had on delivering the recommendation?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

As I said, we are progressing well on the shared education piece. I am pleased with the number of projects for which funding has been made available, including one very close to my heart in Brookeborough. It is good to see them progressing well. Under Delivering Social Change, we have been able to give £25 million to incentivise shared education between 314 schools, which, as I think she will agree, is a very good march forward. Shared housing is also moving along very well. There has been good progress made on the sharing front. Of course, there is always more that we would like to do, but we will continue to push ahead on this agenda.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

Following the disclosure by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that, in the last year alone, over 400 people who claimed homelessness cited paramilitary activity, how does the First Minister think that the Executive's strategy will deal with this behaviour, given that the first draft has already been rejected by the Government as falling short?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Of course, his characterisation is wrong — the Government in Westminster have made that very clear — but I would expect him to characterise it in that fashion. Yes, I was rather alarmed to hear those figures last week. When I made enquiries into what the Housing Executive is doing on the matter, I was told that it has been able to, under Fresh Start allocations, draw down £498,000 — not an insubstantial amount of money — to deal with three programmes: one on community empowerment; one on re-imaging communities, which will try to deal with some of the issues that led to those people being rehoused; and one on bonfire management, which always becomes a very topical issue at a particular time of the year, not just in the House but in councils across the piece. Work is ongoing, with the Housing Executive in the lead, to deal with community tensions and community programmes.

Again, we all have to take leadership roles on the matter. It is what we need to do in the Assembly: give leadership; say that those activities that are going on, sometimes at a very low level, are completely unacceptable; and try to move people away from those activities to more progressive and positive matters. The programmes come into their own in and around re-imaging. I saw some of the very good work that went on in the past with those projects through the Department for Social Development, as it then was. Those projects are now being put forward through the Fresh Start Agreement.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

Given the report to the Assembly by the Minister of Finance that London will not release in-year moneys to deal with the issue because of the lack of a detailed action plan and that, one year ago this week, the DUP and Sinn Féin had a fanfare of promotion for Fresh Start, do you feel embarrassed today?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

No. I do not feel embarrassed at all, because, as I have just told you, £498,000 has been drawn down under the Fresh Start Agreement to help people in communities right across Northern Ireland under three Housing Executive programmes. That is just one part of A Fresh Start. Why would I be embarrassed about that? I am not embarrassed about it at all. In fact, it is something that we should celebrate.

The money that he refers to is, of course, money that will be rolled forward into next year. Sometimes, people have this thing and think that we have lost money because a programme has not been pulled together. I would much rather that the programme be the correct one and that it really can deliver for communities. In that respect, we will be able to pull the programme together and take advantage of that money, which, as I say, has not been lost but has simply been rolled forward, so that we can deliver in a more positive way for the communities involved.