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Employment Tribunals

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the funding for conducting fair employment cases through the tribunal system will be introduced. [84130]

Mr. Browne: The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has powers to provide assistance 1998 to complainants under the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order. Similar powers for the Equality Commission to provide assistance exist in the sex discrimination, race relations and disability legislation. Decisions on whether to assist a particular case are a matter for the Equality Commission.

Fair Employment Commission

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people have approached the Fair Employment Commission in each of the last five years; how many cases were taken on by the Fair Employment Commission in each year; how much compensation was paid out by the Fair Employment Commission in each year; how much money was invested in the construction of the new Fair Employment Commission headquarters; and what assessment he has made of whether the Fair Employment Commission has sufficient funding to fulfil its obligations in the current year. [84450]

Mr. Browne: The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland was established on 1 October 1999. It assumed the functions of the former Fair Employment Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Disability Council. It also has additional functions in relation to disability discrimination and the duties on public authorities under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act.

The following table provides the number of inquiries made on Fair Employment issues and the number of cases supported by the Fair Employment Commission/Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Inquiries on Fair Employment issues and Cases Supported by the Fair Employment Commission and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

YearInquiriesCases supported
1998–99 (FEC)1,813144
1999–2000 (FEC and ECNI)1,296123
2000–01 (ECNI)1,106142
2001–02 (ECNI)901289

(21) For the period up to end November 2002.

(22) Applications for legal support across all grounds, received between April and July 2002, were not processed pending the development of a revised Legal Enforcement Policy and Assistance Strategy. These cases are now being processed by ECNI.

Neither the Equality Commission, nor its predecessor, the Fair Employment Commission, is empowered to pay compensation and therefore none was paid. The Equality Commission is a tenant in Equality House. The building is rented under a 10-year

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lease agreement. The interior fit out of the building cost £1,570,701.98 (excluding VAT) and this cost is rentalised to the Commission over a 10-year period. The Equality Commission's budget for the current financial year was £6.7 million. Resourcing the Commission is kept under review and it has recently been awarded an increase of £113,000 for new activities.

Fire Service

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on how the employers' side of the negotiating machinery for the Fire Service of Northern Ireland (a) is mandated and (b) formulates its negotiating positions at the time of pay and service conditions bargaining. [84474]

Mr. Browne: The Fire Authority for Northern Ireland appoints two members to represent it on the National Joint Council (NJC) for local authorities' fire brigades. They take their mandate from the authority, and are subject to reappointment annually.

The authority formulates its negotiating positions in consultation with the NJC employers' side, which also includes representatives of the fire authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Firefighters' Dispute

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what estimate he has made of the additional sum which would be required in Northern Ireland to satisfy the pay increase demands of firefighters in the province. [83710]

Mr. Browne: To meet the Fire Brigades Union demand for a 40 per cent. rise in pay for firefighters would result in a £14 million increase in the annual pay bill and an immediate increase in pension liability of £40 million for the Fire Service in Northern Ireland.

Irish Fertiliser Industries

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions have taken place between Government departments and the owners of the IFI/Richardsons Plant in Belfast over the announcement of the plant's closure. [84387]

Mr. Pearson: The owners of Irish Fertiliser Industries are ICI and the Irish Government. Since the announcement of the company's closure on 15 October I have exchanged correspondence with Mary Harney TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the Republic of Ireland, and with the Chief Executive of ICI. I also met the ICI Chief Executive and an official representative of the Irish Government in London on 28 November. My objective throughout these contacts has been to stress the need to treat the Belfast employees fairly.

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations have been made by the Government to the Government of the Irish Republic in respect of its involvement in the decision to close the IFI/Richardsons Plant in Belfast. [84386]

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Mr. Pearson: The decision to close Irish Fertiliser Industries was taken by the Irish Government and ICI, the owners of the company. Since the closure announcement on 15 October, I have written to Mary Harney TD, Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, stressing the importance of treating the employees in a fair and equitable manner. I have also met with an official representative of the Irish Government, along with the Chief Executive of ICI, and discussed my concerns with them in detail.

Princess Victoria

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals the Northern Ireland Office has to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Victoria off the coast of County Antrim. [85032]

Angela Smith: The Department for Regional Development has agreed outline arrangements for a small commemorative event at Donaghadee Harbour where survivors were landed by the local lifeboat. Ards borough council will erect a memorial plaque adjacent to the RNLI berth and the Department plans to erect a flagpole resembling the foremast of the MV Princess Victoria. These events will complement local church services, the laying of wreaths at sea by the Donaghadee and Campbeltown lifeboats and a commemorative event planned by Larne borough council, Larne being the port to which the MV Princess Victoria was steaming when she sank.

Social Housing

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) how many of the new social housing units projected for this financial year have been constructed; and when the rest will be constructed; [80584]

Mr. Browne: Given that both questions relate to the new build social housing programme, I shall answer them together.

For the current year, my Department has a programme for Government commitment to fund housing associations to start 1,400 new social houses. However, that target has now been revised to 1,200. The 200 houses that have been deferred will start in the first quarter of the next financial year.

To date, 266 new homes have started on site. The remaining 934 will start between now and 31 March 2003. The reduction in the number of starts this year can be attributed to:

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New procedures, to be introduced for 2003–04, will help address some of these problems enabling targets for future programmes to be met.


Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the suicide rate in north and west Belfast. [85033]

Mr. Browne: I am concerned at the number of suicides in North and West Belfast. The North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust has developed a strategy for positive mental health promotion and suicide prevention which was launched in 1999. The Trust has appointed a suicide awareness co-ordinator who is working with a wide range of community and statutory agencies to provide information, training and support. In addition the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety will be issuing a mental health promotion strategy and action plan early in the New Year which will include a separate section on suicide prevention.

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