Hilditch Speaks On Cross-Border Education PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch (DUP)

I speak as a member of the Committee for Employment and Learning — indeed, a relatively new member — who is attempting to get his head round the many challenges that currently face the Department.  Although the motion calls for the Minister for Employment and Learning and the Minister of Education to work closely with the Department of Education and Skills to remove the barriers that limit student flows on the island of Ireland, I, for one, acknowledge the historical background, where we are today and the implications of any change to the current situation.  However, like Mr Buchanan, I question the usefulness of today's debate.

As I said, I am new to the Committee, and, admittedly, this is the first time that I have looked at the report in any detail.  If I am being totally honest, I believe that most of its findings could be described as almost stating the obvious, with information — or, perhaps, the lack of it — on economic and grade equivalences being to the fore.  The recommendations clearly flow from these findings, and that is where I have concerns about financial implications and pressures in this budgetary period, together with any further burden to the taxpayer.  Some recommendations relate to much that can be done in the sector itself and, indeed, in other jurisdictions.  However, there is also a call for government resources to be made available for commissioned work, and this report would form the basis of any collaborative working. 

It is worth noting that some of those in the Republic of Ireland who participated in the formulation of the report expressed concern that they could not justify the expense at this time of severe financial cutbacks.  Here in Northern Ireland, in our devolved Administration, those pressures are no different.  Indeed, my attention was drawn to the section in the research pack that gave some detail on what is expected in monetary terms from the Department for Employment and Learning during the current mandate alone.  The figures are quite stark and certainly exercised the minds of members of the Committee for Employment and Learning.  Further to that, I understand that the cost of cross-border education to our devolved Administration is around £11·6 million.  Clearly, any increase would affect departmental budgets.

I believe in educational choice.  However, I am concerned about the impact that this motion or, indeed, any private Member's motion would have on our priorities.  The Minister has been strong on issues that relate to growing the economy in Northern Ireland.  He has clearly set out the Department's stall in recent statements on higher education.  We know where improvements can be made in the system here.  I advocate strongly that any additional resources made available should be diverted to priorities here in Northern Ireland that will shape and create an innovative economy.  Having attended my first couple of meetings of the Employment and Learning Committee, I have already been hearing of the basic need for capital spend on facilities and enhanced careers guidance down the line.  Those are examples of local bread-and-butter issues that we must prioritise for our limited resources.  I am concerned that a motion such as this would divert resources from real needs, and I will not be supporting the motion.


Questions the Minister on the Progress on the Flood Alleviation Scheme at Sullatober PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for an update on the alleviation works on the Sullatober Water in Carrickfergus. (AQO 2657/11-15)

Michelle O'Neill (Sinn Féin)

 I am pleased to inform my colleague that the Sullatober flood alleviation scheme, which provides protection to 28 properties, was completed in September.  The area of park occupied during the construction of the scheme has also been fully reinstated and is open to the public.

David Hilditch (DUP)

That was a necessary and welcome project.  However, a four-month project took 13 months to be delivered on the ground.  What were the financial implications of that nine-month delay?

Michelle O'Neill (Sinn Féin)

The scheme involved a considerable amount of earthworks, and the prolonged wet weather we experienced meant that the works took longer than originally anticipated.  Additional works were also required to reinforce the banks of the pond, and staff were diverted from the project to deal with the impacts of flooding elsewhere.

I am pleased to say that the original estimated cost at the project's feasibility stage was £350,000 and we were able to deliver the project for £250,000.  That is, obviously, a good news story


Questions the Health Minister on the Flu Vaccination PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety what action is being taken to promote the uptake of the flu vaccination. (AQO 2587/11-15)

Edwin Poots (DUP)

I launched this year's seasonal flu vaccination programme on 27 September.  This is its thirteenth year in Northern Ireland.  Eligible groups are now familiar with the need to get vaccinated, which is one reason why Northern Ireland consistently achieves one of the highest uptakes in the UK.  The vaccine is free for anyone in the target groups.  Every year, thePublic Health Agency closely monitors the uptake in each GP practice and takes steps to improve it where it is low.  The agency also runs training sessions for the healthcare staff who deliver the programme, and one of the aims of the training is to promote uptake by the target groups.  In addition, this year, the agency will rerun a media campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated in advance of the flu season.  Last year, that contributed to a 25% increase in the number of people coming forward to be vaccinated compared with 2010.  That is vital in reducing serious complications and deaths from flu.

David Hilditch (DUP)

I thank the Minister for his answer.  Will he provide us with further details on the public information campaign?

Edwin Poots (DUP)

The strapline for the campaign is:

"Flu is more serious than you think – so get the flu vaccination now."

Last year's campaign contributed to the uptake of the seasonal flu vaccination surpassing the target set by DHSSPS, with a 25% increase and the highest vaccination rates in the UK.  It is important that we encourage this and encourage uptake by our professional staff.  There are two new strains of flu this year, and all the indications from, for example, Australia, where the flu season happens earlier, are that there are fairly significant problems.  So we want to encourage as many people as possible to get the flu vaccine


Hilditch Requests The Transforming Your Care Strategy For East Antrim PDF Print E-mail

 I warmly welcome the Adjournment topic and the opportunity to contribute to this pretty wide-ranging topic.  I thank the Minister for his attendance and his ongoing interest in matters pertaining to our constituency, and I personally share and support much of the Minister's vision in transforming care, and I hope that our constitunency can play an integral part in moving forward.

Historically, of course,East Antrim was stripped of much of its health and social care facilities under the former direct rule Government and, later, Administrations locally.  People from the rural glens in the north, through the towns of Larne and Carrickfergus to the sprawling housing estates in the south of the constituency, have all been adversely affected and have had to travel to receive care in the major hospitals in Belfast city and, indeed, Antrim Area Hospital.  At one stage, the  constituency boasted three hospitals before the demise of Davidson Cottage Hospital, Moyle Hospital and Whiteabbey Hospital.  However, people eventually travelled, knowing that they were receiving the best standards and quality.  They were happy to do so, and that commitment from constituents should be acknowledged. 

As the Transforming Your Care strategy comes on line, it provides us with fresh challenges locally.  We are all aware of the ageing and poorly conditioned health centres in Larne and Carrickfergus that are no longer fit for purpose.  Indeed, I thank the  Minister for taking time in June this year to witness at first hand the problems encountered at Carrickfergus, when he visited to meet a group of local stakeholders that included two GP practices that operate from a very outdated and run-down facility. 

I was previously involved with a proposal to create a health village and well-being centre in the Carrickfergus area.  Unfortunately, that was a great opportunity lost.  The project would have been unique to Northern Ireland, as it would have encompassed not only health and care, but blue-light facilities, sports facilities and general recreational opportunities.  I believe that the Department and the civil servants under that previous mandate were wrong in their assertions that it could not go ahead.

I believe passionately that this location is very well placed to be the hub of one of the proposed integrated care partnerships (ICPs), incorporating the previously sought-after level 2 care centre. 


As I previously stated, all the stakeholders are on board, from those on the front line of healthcare delivery to administrators, other relevant agencies and landowners.  Such a facility would provide and deliver the extensive services that are desired, including GP services, a community chemist and in-reaching services from secondary providers such as hospitals and other auxiliaries.

I stress very strongly that there will be a high level of co-operation between local government, the Department, the trust and other relevant agencies in working through the logistics of any temporary service provision if an ICP were afforded to the area. 

I must say that the Transforming Your Care strategy has, in this case, prompted the local GPs to fully involve themselves in the vision, and I had the opportunity to attend several meetings where I witnessed a progressive and ambitious attitude and the building of collaborative working relationships with other stakeholders as we strive for a modern facility for the area. 

It is also worth acknowledging the work of a health inequalities officer Mr Iain McAfee on the document that he has provided, which contains statistics for the Carrickfergus area in relation to Transforming Your Care.  There are certainly some interesting figures in the document, including the above-average incidence in the area of deaths due to respiratory disease and the alarming female life-expectancy figures, which are not only below average for Northern Ireland but fall into the 20% lowest female life expectancy in the UK.  It was quite shocking to discover that.


There are many other areas of health and care to cover, not least, vital nursing home services such as those at Lisgarel, Joymount House and Greenisland House in the constitunecy.  Hopefully, those will also feature in any forthcoming discussions on the Transforming Your Care strategy.  However, it is my hope that the excellent preparatory work in relation to establishing an integrated care partnership in the area comes to fruition.


Questions Minister of Environment on Arc21 PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch asked the Minister of the Environment for his assessment of Arc21. (AQO David Hilditch2532/11-15)

 Alex Attwood (Social Democratic and Labour Party)

I thank the Member for his question.  As Members know, there is an ongoing waste procurement strategy for Northern Ireland .  The outworking of that sees three groups of councils, through procurement groups — the Southern Waste Management Partnership (SWaMP),  the North West Region Waste Management Group (NWRWMG) and Arc21 — taking forward the procurement of waste need in future.  I have to be careful about what I say in this regard because we are at a critical phase of the management of those procurement strategies.  I have made it clear, in the Department, to the three groups of councils and to the procurement managers, that I want to create certainty and to do so quickly over how the procurement strategy will be deployed over the next period.  Consequently, I said clearly to all three that now is the time and soon is the time for certainty around the deliverability and affordability of each of or all the schemes, given the scale of commitments that councils may be asked to enter into and the financial consequences that flow from that.  That is as true for Arc21 as it is for the others.

David Hilditch (DUP) I thank the Minister for his answer.  Given the number of organisations now involved in waste management, does he consider that the time is now approaching for the challenges to be faced collectively through the delivery of a new waste infrastructure facility by one group?

Alex Attwood (Social Democratic and Labour Party)

I confirm that I said to the waste management board, the Department and the three procurement groups that we should, as the Member said, move towards having a single waste authority.  However, historically, we came to the situation in which we had three waste authorities.  It is my view that, on the far side of this procurement exercise, we should have a single waste authority.  I cannot derail the ongoing exercise, because people would say that I had changed the rules of the game, created uncertainty and that they may make a legal challenge.  Therefore, I have to exhaust the current process.  However, on the far side of that process and once the matter is settled, whatever way it is settled, a single waste procurement authority is the right way to go.

We will see over the next short while whether all three, two or one of the groups get over the deliverability and affordability line.  However, I am determined that that should happen, whatever the outcome might be, so that the picture of waste procurement over the next 20 or 25 years is clear for all to see.


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