Official Report: Monday 29 June 2015
The Assembly met at 12:00 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes' silence.
Mr Ramsey: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In light of the temperatures that we will have over the next few days, would you be minded to relax the dress code for Members in the Chamber, particularly those male folk who may want to take off their jacket?
Mr Speaker: I am not sure that I share your confidence in the weathermen. If you do not mind, we will monitor it for the first few hours and then review the situation in those circumstances. I know that a precedent exists, but let us see how the weather really works out.
Mr Wilson: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, given the accuracy of the BBC in predicting anything in this country, could we perhaps leave it for a day or two to see whether the BBC has got this one right?
Mr Speaker: Order. I hope that the party mood continues for the rest of today's business. [Laughter.]
To reiterate: we will keep the situation under review. I am very conscious that, in the past, we have found it necessary to relax the usual code. I will come straight back to Members when it becomes obvious that we need to do something.
I want to proceed with today's business, and I have a few announcements to make.
Mr Speaker: I wish to inform the House that the Pensions Bill received Royal Assent on 23 June 2015. It will be known as the Pensions Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.
Mr Speaker: I wish to advise the House that I have received a letter from Mr Danny Kinahan giving me notice of his intention to resign as a Member for the South Antrim constituency with effect from Saturday 27 June. I also wish to advise the House that I have received a letter from Mr Tom Elliott giving me notice of his intention to resign as a Member for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, also with effect from Saturday 27 June. I have notified the Chief Electoral Officer, in accordance with section 35 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Mr Speaker: I wish to advise the House that I have been informed by the Chief Electoral Officer of the following appointments: Mr Adrian Cochrane-Watson has been returned as a Member of the Assembly for the South Antrim constituency to fill the vacancy resulting from Mr Kinahan's resignation; Mr Neil Somerville has been returned as a Member of the Assembly for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency to fill the vacancy resulting from Mr Elliott's resignation; and Ms Claire Hanna has been returned as a Member of the Assembly for the South Belfast constituency to fill the vacancy resulting from Dr McDonnell's resignation. Mr Cochrane-Watson, Mr Somerville and Ms Hanna signed the Roll of Membership in my presence and that of the Clerk to the Assembly this morning and entered their designation. The Members have now taken their seats. I welcome them to the Assembly and wish them every success.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Mr Speaker: Mr David McNarry has been given leave to make a statement on the terror attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait, which fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their place and continue to do so. Members will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject. I remind Members that I will not take any points of order on this or any other matter until this item of business has been finished.
Mr McNarry: Our hearts, prayers and thoughts are with the injured and the bereaved families cast into darkness, but so, too, must the outright condemnation from the House of ISIS and its warmongering be listened to.
Last Friday, at 7.00 am in France, 12.00 noon in Kuwait and, in between, at 11.45 am in Tunisia, ISIS terrorists struck, and they shook the free world. Thirty British and three Irish holidaymakers, along with others, were cut down by an IS extremist murdering innocent people on a Tunisian beach. It is unforgivable. Islamic countries must now decide to disown IS, to reject and repudiate it. They cannot host tourists and harbour terrorists at the same time. Our Government must also act by informing us all of the level of threat existing in our United Kingdom. I trust that the House will unite in that condemnation and that our message will be carried forward by you and your office, Mr Speaker, to the rest of the world.
Mr D McIlveen: I do not know whether saying that I welcome the opportunity to speak is the correct form of words today. I am sure that the events that unfolded last week filled everyone with horror, in the Chamber and outside it. I had the immense privilege, towards the end of last year, of being part of a delegation to Tunis. We met a number of senior political figures, including the president, and it was an eye-opening experience. It was very clear that there were serious concerns in the country that an attack such as this was almost inevitable. Last year, although Tunisia is one of the more secular Islamic states in the region, it exported over 2,000 young people to ISIS. That certainly caused the vast majority of right-thinking people in the area huge concern as it started to become clear what the ramifications could be.
It is a twisted, disgusting, barbaric ideology. It is often said at these times that it should not be reflected upon the vast majority of good people who live in the area, and I have to echo that today. I was received with nothing but courtesy and hospitality when I visited Tunisia. I think particularly of a young man called Tariq, who, despite putting his personal safety on the line, continues to try to mobilise the student movement to encourage all young people that violence is not a legitimate form of political protest. Therefore, I condemn it wholeheartedly and welcome the Member bringing it to the Floor today.
I think that we have to be in no doubt and be unequivocal in our condemnation of those acts over the weekend. Whether it is a terrorist attack in Sousse, New York, London, La Mon, Loughinisland or Omagh, it does not matter to me. Terrorism is terrorism, and it must be condemned on every possible occasion. The House must send out a message that that type of barbaric activity, regardless of whether it is on our shores or within the shores of other lands, should be condemned wholeheartedly and outrightly. My thoughts and prayers are with the families in the United Kingdom and across the border in the Republic who are bearing unmeasurable grief at time. I hope and pray that the vast majority of the thoughts of people in the House are with them.
Ms Ruane: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I join others in saying that my party is shocked at the slaughter that happened on the beaches in Tunisia. Sinn Féin's deepest sympathies go to all the relatives who have lost loved ones and also to those who have been injured. I am hearing that 38 people were killed, but we will obviously have to wait for the final tally. British and Irish people were killed. Three from this island were killed. They were Laurence and Martina Hayes from Athlone, County Westmeath, and Lorna Carty from Robinstown, County Meath.
I also recently visited Tunisia, following the shootings in March. I was there for Easter weekend as part of a seminar, meeting political parties, Ministers, other elected representatives and non-governmental organisations from across the Middle East and north Africa. I know from my time there that the vast majority of the people of Tunisia will be outraged at the attack. They were certainly outraged at the attack that happened a couple of days before I visited. The vast majority of people from the Muslim world, here in Ireland and across the world will also be horrified and reject the activities of ISIS. The onus is on us to reach out to progressive and representative voices to address the issues that allow that sort of extremism to exist.
Our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones.
Mr Dallat: Reference has been made to the fact that terrorist attacks took place across three continents within a few hours of one another, resulting in the deaths of at least 62 people. That brings home to us the extent of what happened on a quiet Friday afternoon.
I became aware when I got a phone call from a family in Kilrea whose son was in Tunisia. In fact, he was on a beach close to where the shootings took place. I pay tribute to the British and Irish consular services for their outstanding help in assuring those families who were not tragically affected by the holocaust that their family members were safe and, indeed, that efforts were being made to get them out of the country. I particularly thank the British-Irish secretariat here in Belfast, which was absolutely outstanding in giving information to that family that their son was, in fact, safe after spending several hours locked in a bedroom, not knowing exactly what had happened.
Like Mr McIlveen, I have been to Tunisia, although just as a holidaymaker. I found the people there to be exceptionally good people. They are poor and very much dependent on tourism for their survival. They, too, need to be in our thoughts, because many countries in the world have had their tourism industry destroyed by acts of terrorism. Today, this island and our neighbouring island, along with Germany and Sweden, are united in grieving for all those families who went there to enjoy a short holiday and are now plunged into grief.
The Assembly, I am sure, is united in extending its good wishes to the people who were injured, some of them with life-changing injuries. Our prayers are with those families who, over the next few days, have to bring home the bodies of their loved ones.
Mr Speaker: I call Mr Ross Hussey. Mr Hussey, you are fine to sit down.
Mr Hussey: On this occasion, Mr Speaker, I feel it is appropriate that I should stand as a mark of respect to the 30 British and three Irish who lost their life in this ridiculous attack.
I thank Mr McNarry for bringing this Matter of the Day to the House. Every time something like this happens, you think how you would react if it was a member of your own family. The reports were coming in on Friday lunchtime, and one of my staff actually said, "Reports are coming in from Tunisia". You hear one dead, two dead, and the figure goes up.
One of the first photographs that I saw was of a very good-looking young woman, a nurse, on her holidays. She was out to get a wee bit of sun before she came home and was brutally done to death by a terrorist.
I have said this before in the House, and I hope I never have to say it again: terrorists are cowards. They always have been and always will be cowards. That man arrived with a sub-machine gun and continually shot at people. I am one of those people who would put the car on the roof to avoid a rabbit. How could anybody deliberately go along and shoot people in cold blood?
We have seen it in this place in Northern Ireland, and we know the pain that these families are suffering. Thirty British and three Irish, and the Chamber is unique because we are British and Irish. So, 33 of our fellow citizens have been murdered, and for what? Tunisia depends on the tourist industry to make a living. As mentioned, they are a very poor people, and they need the support of tourists.
Terrorists terrorise, and that is what they are there for. They are there to terrorise the community. They have murdered in cold blood these citizens, but what have they done to the people of Tunisia? An awful lot of people will now not go to Tunisia, and nobody is going to encourage people to go to a place where they may get shot. We need to support the people of Tunisia as well.
I am appalled at these killings. My sympathy is with the families. They have many cold, dark days ahead. When the bodies are returned, they have days of mourning. I agree with the previous speakers that everyone in the House will send their sympathy to our fellow citizens, whether they be Irish or British.
Dr Farry: With others, I join in condemnation of this attack in Tunisia and express our sympathy to all the families of the victims, injured and bereaved. We also join in recognising that this is part of a three-pronged attack, including that in France and the attack on the Shia mosque in Kuwait.
It is right that, given the British and Irish victims in Tunisia, we reflect in particular on that incident and loss, not least given that it is perhaps the most serious terrorist attack that we have experienced in these islands for effectively 10 years. Somewhat poignantly, we are coming up to the tenth anniversary of 7/7 itself. However, we should bear in mind that this type of action is happening day and daily in different parts of the world, most notably in Iraq and Syria, but also in other parts of the Middle East. We are seeing barbaric acts and atrocities occurring with alarming frequency and people being singled out based upon their religion, some warped view of a lack of adherence to religion or, indeed, their sexuality.
It is clear that the threat from the so-called IS is a very localised challenge in some parts of the Middle East, but it is also now a major global challenge facing us all, with terror taking place on an almost random basis. That is obviously driven by what is very clearly a warped interpretation of Islam, just as throughout history we have seen barbaric acts and atrocities carried out through warped interpretations of other world religions.
I have a slight difference of opinion with Mr McNarry in saying that I think that very few states in the world are actively harbouring Islamic State. Islamic State is as much a threat to the states in the Middle East as to ourselves here in the west. People referred to Tunisia, which is now suffering hugely in terms of the loss to its economy. There is no doubt that it was particularly targeted, as this is the second major attack there in a number of months, because it was the first state to be involved in the Arab Spring and it has successfully made the transition to democracy.
We should also recognise the acts of many individual Tunisians who stepped in and prevented even worse acts of terrorism from occurring last week. They are real heroes. They recognise their common humanity with our citizens, as well as the fate of their state on the back of this.
There are, of course, challenges to us all, both in the West and states in the Middle East, in how we tackle propaganda and prevent our citizens from leaving our shores as fighters. Those are discussions for another day, but we need a genuine global response to what is a genuine global problem.
Mr Wilson: I wish to express, as all other Members have, my sympathy to those who are grieving and who find themselves mourning relatives who went for a holiday and finished up in a holocaust; who thought that they were going to a beach and found themselves in a bloodbath. Since we in Northern Ireland can identify so much with the sudden loss that comes from acts of terror, I think that the sympathy and the empathy of the Assembly should go out to them.
On the wider issue, though, this is the challenge for our generation. Many people point to worldwide issues that need to be dealt with, and this is one of the global issues. Friday's violence across three continents indicates just how widespread this is. We in this country need to seriously decide how we wish to address it. People living in this country need to decide how we react to it.
Whilst there is responsibility for our Government and for other Governments, there are also responsibilities for those whose community is being targeted by this death cult; and it is a death cult, which only wishes to spread destruction, whether it is the destruction of the Tunisian economy, the destruction of the lives of the people who went there on holiday, or the destruction of families. I listened to the family of the gunman, who said that he was their hope; he was the one who had got an education, and yet his mind was poisoned by individuals who wanted to draw him into this death cult.
I think that leaders in the Muslim community here in Northern Ireland also need to bear in mind their responsibility. It was not so long ago that we had the head of the Muslim community in Northern Ireland on the radio actually praising this death cult for what it had done when it took over Mosul, and claiming that it had brought order to that city. When people are considering how we deal with this, everyone at all levels of society, especially those within the Muslim community, have to ask themselves what responsibility we have if our families are being drawn into this. We must inform the police, dissuade them, and make sure that there are no more recruits who gun down innocents on beaches and in factories.
Mr Allister: I join in the condemnation of these horrific events, made all the more horrific because they occurred at a time when those in Tunisia thought that they were there for a period of relaxation, leaving aside the cares that beset people, only to suddenly face the deadly horror of the situation. That adds a peculiar dimension to the situation. Of course, as a society, we came face-to-face for far too long with the awful wickedness of terrorism. Those of us who opposed that terrorism can quite properly join in expressing our horror and condemnation of this terrorism. Those who supported that terrorism must speak for themselves as they deploy words to meet this situation.
Reference has been made, and it is true, that Tunisia was the crucible of what was called the Arab Spring. Now we have come full circle to the horrors of terrorism that we are facing, not just there but in many other countries, including our own. I do think that it is unhelpful to note the diffidence, at times, of the Prime Minister and others to call this for what it is — Islamic-inspired terrorism. You can ignore reality, but you cannot go on ignoring the consequences of ignoring reality. I trust that stern and necessary measures will be taken within our nation and that the jihadists who go off to trade their war outside this nation will be prevented from ever returning within our boundaries. A very clear message has to go out that the Government and all in authority are serious about identifying the source and the nature of this terrorism and serious about dealing with it on our shores. To an extent, there has been too much diffidence already in dealing with that.
I send my condolences to all concerned. That is a small matter in the realm of the huge devastation that they feel, but it is right that those who have experienced terrorism, such as this community, should feel an affinity and empathise with them at this time.
Mr Agnew: I am grateful for the opportunity to condemn these most recent atrocities, including Friday's events in Tunisia. The principle of non-violence is at the heart of what the Green Party in Northern Ireland stands for. Global terrorism is a scourge. It is not often that I agree with Mr Sammy Wilson, but it is one of the greatest challenges facing us. Globally, this type of event happens much too often — seemingly on a daily basis, as Mr Farry pointed out. This particular event in Tunisia over the weekend affected people from these shores, but the suffering, pain and anguish of those involved in the often daily atrocities across the world are no less just because we do not know them. Of course, in Northern Ireland we know only too well the impact of terrorism — how it tears families and societies apart. It is important that we condemn terrorism, wherever it originates. Unfortunately, it continues to be a scourge in our society and that is something that we must continue to grapple with.
On behalf of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, I extend my sympathy to the families of this most recent atrocity. Violence begets violence, and we must lead by example through standing strong on the principle of non-violence. That is the only way we can defeat those who perpetrate such heinous crimes.
Mr Speaker: Mr Steven Agnew has sought leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22. The Member will have up to three minutes to speak.
Mr Agnew: The petition I present today calls for a change in the law to effectively ban the use of animals in circuses by denying them access to an entertainment licence. Let me be clear: animals do not exist for our entertainment. We know what an animal needs to ensure its welfare.
The five freedoms include the need for a suitable environment; the need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns; and the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease. We have protected the five freedoms through the code of practice issued by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and we should ensure that the five freedoms are met in all aspects of our society. Even with the best of intentions, a travelling circus cannot meet the five freedoms of an animal, and, for that reason, I believe that circuses that use animal acts should be prohibited in our society. Animals should be afforded dignity and respect, and they are denied that in circuses where the five freedoms are not met.
(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Newton] in the Chair)
I would like to thank Councillor Ross Brown for starting the petition, and I am honoured to present it to you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the 1,775 signatories. I urge the Environment Minister to take action. He has gone out to consultation on the licensing regime, and 1,775 people have spoken and made it very clear that they no longer wish our society to give legitimacy to circuses that perpetuate cruelty on animals. To quote one of the signatories:
"It's time to stop this cruelty. Animals deserve better."
Mr Agnew moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.
That Standing Orders 10(2) to 10(4) be suspended for 29 June 2015.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved (with cross-community support):
That Standing Orders 10(2) to 10(4) be suspended for 29 June 2015.
That Ms Caitríona Ruane be appointed to the board of trustees of the Assembly Members' pension scheme. — [Mr G Kelly.]
Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: I have received notice from the First Minister and the deputy First Minister that they wish to make a statement on the British-Irish Council (BIC) summit that was held in Dublin on 19 June. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety will make the statement on their behalf.
Mr Hamilton (The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety): In accordance with the requirements of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I wish to make the following statement on the twenty-fourth summit meeting of the British-Irish Council, which took place in Dublin Castle on 19 June. The First Minister, the deputy First Minister and I attended the summit, and the First Minister and the deputy First Minister have agreed that I make this statement on their behalf.
The Irish Government hosted the summit, and the heads of delegations were welcomed by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD. The United Kingdom Government were led by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP. The Scottish Government were led by the First Minister, the Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon MSP.
The Welsh Government were led by the First Minister, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM. The Isle of Man Government were led by the Chief Minister, the honourable Allan Bell MHK. The Government of Jersey were led by the Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst. The Government of Guernsey were led by the Chief Minister, Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq.
The twice yearly summits continue to provide an opportunity for the British-Irish Council to play a unique and important role in furthering, promoting and developing links between its member Administrations through positive, practical relationships, and in providing a forum for consultation and exchange of information on matters of mutual interest.
As is now customary at each summit, the Council discussed the current economic situation. Each member Administration outlined their latest economic indicators and the strategies that they are putting in place to promote growth and address unemployment. Overall, a common theme emerged of a continuing improving economic situation in all member Administrations, with a recognition of the interdependence and links between our economies. Each Administration also noted the decision of the UK Government to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union and the potential implications of the outcome for their economies.
The Irish Government presented a collaborative paper, on behalf of the misuse of substances work sector, on the misuse of alcohol, focusing on the economic and social implications of alcohol abuse and the various measures planned to tackle the problem of excessive alcohol consumption. In response, the Council had a detailed discussion on the significant harm being caused by alcohol to individuals, families and society. The Council agreed that continuing action is required across member Administrations to protect the health and well-being of the wider public — especially children — from alcohol misuse. The Council recognised the need for policies that foster protective environments for families and young people and to implement strategies that target high-risk groups. There was an exchange of views and information on how member Administrations are handling issues such as marketing and advertising, minimum pricing and licensing reform.
All member Administrations reaffirmed their commitment to the British-Irish Council and to its key principle of facilitating the development of mutually beneficial relationships between these islands. They recognised the many positive achievements of the BIC to date and agreed that it was timely to update the working of the British-Irish Council to ensure that it best reflects shared priorities for the member Administrations and delivers for citizens across the islands. They requested that officials, working closely with the secretariat, review the work sector's activities and report back on progress to the next summit in November 2015, as well as review the working of the Council in general.
The Council received an update on the work that had taken place across each of the 12 sectors since the last summit in November 2014. The Council looked forward to a number of ministerial meetings, at work-sector level, to be held later this year. The Council also reviewed the latest youth employment statistics across the Administrations and welcomed the further progress being made in that important area. The Council noted the secretariat's end-year report against its business plan and welcomed the publication of the BIC annual report 2014. Finally, the Council noted that the next BIC summit will be hosted by the UK Government in London in November 2015.
Mr Nesbitt: I thank the Minister for the update. He will be aware that the Northern Ireland Executive are the only lead member Administration with sole responsibility for no fewer than three of the work streams: collaborative spatial planning, housing and sustainable and accessible transport. Can he tell the House why that is, what the implications are for the resource demand on officials and update us on those three sectors?
Mr Hamilton: I do not know the origins, specifically, of why Northern Ireland has responsibility for three of the work streams out of quite a number. I am looking at Mr Attwood across the Chamber. I am not sure whether he was Minister for Social Development at the time that the housing sector work stream was started. If he was not, it was his predecessor who was in post. I think that work stream was moved forward for inclusion specifically at the request of the Northern Ireland Executive. It was not one of the original work streams; it was added at that stage. Each of those work streams is tailored to areas where there is particular interest from the lead member Administration. I can certainly return to this area and ensure that officials get back to the Member about any cost estimate for the time taken by our officials in taking forward work. The Member is aware, I imagine, from his chairmanship of the OFMDFM Committee, that the overall cost of the secretariat as a whole to Northern Ireland is quite modest. The fees that we are paying to keep the secretariat going are a little over £10,000 a year, but that obviously does not take into account costs for in-kind work done by officials.
While there will be a cost and time will be spent and, perhaps, officials will be taken away from the day-to-day core business in their Departments, it is work of mutual interest, and there is benefit for Northern Ireland in working collaboratively with officials from other Administrations. I know from my Department that there was a focus at the summit on the misuse of alcohol and substances and that work was shared at the summit and across the work stream that can be of benefit to Northern Ireland. We put in time and resources, but we get the benefit of sharing our understanding.
Mr Spratt: The Minister highlighted a discussion between the Administrations about the economy. How does Northern Ireland's economic performance compare with that of other BIC members?
Mr Hamilton: At the commencement of the summit, some time was devoted to a discussion among all member Administrations about the state of their respective economies. I noted from the previous BIC summit, before the turn of the year, in the Isle of Man, that there had been further improvement in economic outlook across all member Administrations. We cannot all boast as good an economic outlook and performance as that of the Isle of Man, which reported having over 30 years of unbroken economic growth and an unemployment rate of about 1·5%. That is something to which we would all aspire and try to work towards.
There was general optimism across member Administrations about the state of the economy. It struck me that Northern Ireland was performing a little better than some member Administrations in the area of unemployment. That is not to say that Northern Ireland's unemployment situation is perfect by any means, but it is certainly considerably lower than that of the host member Administration, the Republic of Ireland, where unemployment has fallen from a high of around 15% to now just below 10%. Northern Ireland is at 6·1%, which is a little above the UK average but certainly a lot better than the rate in the Irish Republic. We should be immensely proud that our claimant count has been down for 28 months. It is one indicator among many that things are starting to improve in Northern Ireland and right across the British Isles.
The fact that all Administrations across the British Isles were reporting economic growth, falling unemployment and general optimism and confidence across the economy can only be a good thing for Northern Ireland. We are so economically linked to and interdependent on one another that, when we get good economic news in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England or in other Administrations, that is ultimately good news for Northern Ireland too.
Ms McGahan: Go raibh maith agat. What indications were discussed at the meeting for the future direction and working of the British-Irish Council?
Mr Hamilton: As I said in my update, there was a brief discussion among member Administrations about reviewing the work of the work streams to update the next summit, which will be held in London in November and which will discuss progress on those work streams. That will help to inform future work undertaken by those work streams, whether some of them can be pared back or whether new ones can be put in their place. That will obviously have an impact on the future work of the summit.
Mr Attwood: I ask the Minister to lodge the updates across the 12 work sectors since the last summit, in November 2014, in the Assembly Library for Members' consideration. When the discussion took place on the forthcoming referendum on membership of the European Union, did the British Government indicate in any shape or form that they recognised how any withdrawal from Europe might have a disproportionate impact on the economy and the people of Northern Ireland?
Mr Hamilton: The Foreign Secretary raised the issue of the referendum in the context of the economic discussion that had taken place at the summit. I do not recall him specifically talking about the impact on other devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. A range of views was expressed, although he did not need to; other First Ministers and Chief Ministers ensured that their concerns were raised. For his part, our First Minister welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister was pursuing renegotiation. That is something we have long supported. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is endeavouring to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the European Union. I think his call for reform of the European Union will find common cause, not across just the United Kingdom, but the European Union. At this stage — the early stage — of those discussions and negotiations that the Prime Minister is engaged in, I think we should be wishing him luck and hoping that he gets a successful and fruitful result for the United Kingdom.
Mr Lunn: I thank the Minister for his statement. Was there any mention of welfare reform in the margins of the conference? Did the Scottish or Welsh Ministers offer any comfort regarding our ability to obtain further concessions from the British Government?
Mr Hamilton: I am not always sure whether you are allowed to talk openly about what happens in the margins. I could not talk about everybody's margins; I could talk only about the margins that I was in. There was no specific, formal discussion around welfare reform on the agenda. Obviously, as you might expect, it was raised, particularly by the First Minister, in the context of the overall need to have faithful and full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, the impact that it was having upon the Northern Ireland Executive and the instability that it was creating in the institutions. Beyond that, there was no formal discussion. Whilst I think I can recall comment made by the First Minister of Scotland and others about welfare reform in the broad sense, no specific comment about Northern Ireland was made in the formal summit. I cannot comment on what was done in the margins that various people were drawing before, during or after the summit.