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Mitchell McLaaughlin Speaks on motion 109

21 February, 2009

Ard Chomhairle Motion 109.

This Ard Fheis recognises the centrality of equality within the Office of the First and deputy First Minister and calls on it to ensure that the Programme for Government commitments to tackle poverty, disadvantage and regional disparities are delivered.

Speaking in favour of Ard Chomhairle motion 109.

I would like to assure Ard Fheis that the Sinn Féin Assembly team are committed to supporting our Ministers in the Executive and particularly deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness to deliver on commitments in the Programme for Government on tackling poverty, disadvantage and regional disparities.

Some of the measures that I believe would greatly progress this project would be directing our energies into efforts to ensure that 75% of all first time inward investment projects and jobs be directed towards those areas of greatest disadvantage and that Invest NI be instructed to prioritise this direction.

In order to achieve this goal it will be necessary to devise a time-tabled investment strategy that will attract cross-party support that will address regional disparities tackling the legacy of institutionalised disadvantage in Derry, West of Bann, and in other deprived areas such as north and west Belfast.

We need to encourage decentralisation of public sector jobs to redress historical disparities and disadvantage and to support balanced regional development. And I believe that where possible our Ministers should be giving the lead in this strategy. An important if modest beginning would be for the Executive to implement the Bain Report on Decentralisation of Government Departments.

Implementation and resourcing of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Taskforce recommendations need to be progressed as a matter of urgency to inject some impetus into revitalising and regenerating the greater West Belfast area.

A vital component of investment planning specifically for the North West is Transport and infrastructure development along the entire border corridor. Despite the fact that we are experiencing economic difficulties, I am confident that Conor Murphy, our Minister of Regional Development will intensify his efforts to identify and progress joint projects with his counterpart in the Irish government. We need to be giving the lead on these issues by identifying projects that we can collaborate on to the benefit of citizens whether they live in Derry or Donegal, Cavan or Fermanagh. Martina Anderson, Raymond McCartney, Padraig MacLochlainn and Pearse Doherty showed what can be achieved by working together when they delivered 'Project Kelvin' to Derry despite the shenanigans of some Stormont civil servants who attempted to locate it in Coleraine. Of course their campaigning on this issue was powerfully reinforced by the efforts of deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and his interventions with the Office of an Taoiseach, First Minister Peter Robinson and DETI Minister Arlene Foster.

This is a clear example of Sinn Féin taking responsibility in ensuring that regional disparities are addressed by delivering for disadvantaged areas.

Where additional resources can be found they must be directed towards tackling poverty and regenerating the most disadvantaged areas. Movement on issues such as the Tax Credit system, the harmonisation of benefits and the minimum wage for all young people, intervention to address the 'benefits gap', programmes to ensure full uptake of benefit payments and increased affordable childcare must be prioritised. While tighter regulations on mainstream Financial institutions is crucial, I believe that expansion of financial services available through Credit Unions would help empower local communities especially in underprivileged areas where the local Credit Union is regarded as the 'People's Bank'.

Another issue that is exacerbating poverty and disadvantage and which requires our attention is the whole area around the growing use of agency workers. Agency workers are often employed for several years yet do not receive the same remuneration as directly recruited workers. They are seldom eligible for company benefits such as sick leave or holiday pay and when it comes to redundancies they are the first to be laid off. This is an intolerable situation. All workers should be entitled to equal pay and conditions for equal work and we must work towards that goal if we are to have any affect on poverty and discrimination in the workplace.

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