Official Report: Monday 29 June 2015

The Assembly met at 12:00 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes' silence.

Assembly Business

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 McNarry: Are there wimps in the BBC?

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.

Executive Committee Business

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.

Assembly Business

Resignation of Members: Mr Danny Kinahan and Mr Tom Elliott

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.

New Assembly Members: Mr Adrian Cochrane-Watson, Mr Neil Somerville and Ms Claire Hanna

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.

Matter of the Day

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.

12.15 pm

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.

Assembly Business

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.