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Fresh Start Panel Report

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 15th November 2016.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance 2:45 pm, 15th November 2016

4. Dr Farry asked the Minister for Communities to outline the action his Department has taken to date to implement the recommendations of the Fresh Start panel report on the 'Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland'. (AQO 674/16-21)

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Following publication of the panel's report on 7 June, the Executive launched their action plan for tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime on 19 July. Implementation of the plan is being taken forward by a cross-departmental programme board, led by the Department of Justice. I am fully committed to delivering on my Department's responsibilities in the action plan, which include: to work with local voluntary and community organisations to promote a culture of lawfulness; to take forward a programme to increase the influence of women in community development; to establish a fund to support ambitious initiatives aimed at building capacity in communities in transition; and to consider how funding can be made available, within existing accountability guidelines for managing public money, to support such activities. <BR/>The work forms an integral part of the new Programme for Government. We have made significant progress to date in consulting with key stakeholders across all sectors and will continue to report progress through the programme board.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I am concerned that the Minister has omitted to refer to recommendation D2 of the panel's report, which refers to the need to tackle segregation in housing and "set ambitious targets and milestones" in that regard. I remind him that the Fresh Start Agreement itself links the issue of tackling division to being central to eradicating paramilitary activity. Therefore, I ask the Minister to confirm whether, in his view and that of his Department, there is a very firm link between the promotion of mixed, shared and integrated housing and the eradication, finally, of paramilitary activity from our society?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

That issue has been touched on before in the Assembly in respect of shared housing. I believe that when you create the environment in which people can have confidence, you will naturally develop shared housing. There are specific requirements that my Department will, of course, meet when it comes to developing shared housing areas.

In the broader sense, whether it is social housing or private housing, it is about building confidence in our communities so that people feel at ease with one another, and that will then develop into mixed housing areas. What I do not believe in is somehow socially engineering outcomes. People should be given houses on the basis of need; it should not be on the basis of one's religion.

I recognise that that is a strange concept for the Alliance Party. It supported the discrimination of Protestants when it came to Police Service recruitment and is now putting forward the case that people should be denied a house on the basis of their religion. I will not support that.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance 3:00 pm, 15th November 2016

Recommendation D2 in the report has been abandoned.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

I remind Members that there should be no comments from a seated position, please.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister agree that the decision that has been taken by the British Government not to release £5 million in funding because of a lack of detail in the Executive's plan to address paramilitarism is deeply embarrassing for the Executive?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I met the Secretary of State recently, and we discussed how we will tackle paramilitary activity and the responsibilities that my Department will have in that area. I am confident that the money that is being made available to the Northern Ireland Executive will be released by the Treasury in due course.

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

Will the Minister outline what progress he has made in promoting a culture of lawfulness in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan DUP

That is, of course, very important. The Department has been working on a scoping exercise with the Strategic Investment Board that will make recommendations on how we can work together with our arm's-length bodies and voluntary and community sector organisations to promote and develop a culture of lawfulness in our society. The Department intends to run a series of pilot programmes in early 2017 to test collaborative interventions that specifically promote lawfulness. We are also working through the joint government/voluntary and community sector forum to consider how that work can be factored into the existing partnership agreement between government and the sector.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

Will the Minister give an update on any discussions that his Department is engaged in with the community and voluntary sector on how it can support the implementation of the recommendations arising from the Fresh Start panel report?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I touched on that engagement in answer to the previous question from my colleague Mr Logan. The Department is engaging with the voluntary and community sector, and work is ongoing, for example, with those who represent the Women's Support Network and so on to look at enhancing the role of women in communities. It is vital that it is delivered at a community level. Government from on high telling communities how they need to develop can, I believe, work only when the community is working with you. The voluntary and community sector plays an important role in that and will have an important role in taking forward the recommendations.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The panel report states:

"It is important that those who do business with Government ... should be consistent positive examples to their communities. We recommend that the Executive ... should review their protocols for engaging with representatives of paramilitary groups."

Why, on the very morning after another BBC 'Spotlight' exposure of paramilitary links to an office on the Shankill Road, did the Minister think it appropriate to visit that office and be photographed with at least one paramilitary figure?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I will go to constituencies and meet organisations. When I met that organisation, a conversation took place about supporting the PSNI and upholding the rule of law, and those who responded were categorical in saying that it is for the PSNI to deal effectively with issues of law and order.

The recommendations in the report state that we need to support communities that are moving into a transitional process. I can speak only about those in my constituency, but there are those who have pasts and prison records, and I recognise the work that they have been doing to move the community forward. I am prepared to work with those individuals on the basis that they support only the PSNI. That is certainly the case with the individuals whom I have been working with and will continue to work with. It is, of course, important that organisations are always looked at in terms of those protocols.

When it comes to being the judge on all those things, given the Member's legal expertise, he will know that, if individuals are breaking the law, it is for the PSNI to arrest and charge them.

What I have heard from a number of Members is that they have been acting as judge and jury over a number of these individuals as opposed to allowing the forces of law and order to deal effectively with them. It is for them to make those judgements and to prosecute people where they break the law.