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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Assembly outlines spending priorities
Stormont
Government plan launched despite political uncertainty
The Northern Ireland Executive has outlined its spending priorities for the coming year in its second draft programme for government.

Acting First Minister Sir Reg Empey and Acting Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon launched the 140-page document in the assembly on Monday.

The draft plan of the executive's 2002/03 spending priorities has been published at a time of deep political uncertainty in the province.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid averted the assembly's collapse by suspending it for 24 hours at the weekend.

This has created another six-week period in which the parties could come to agreement on issues blocking the political process including IRA decommissioning and British Government demilitarisation.

Both the Ulster Unionists and DUP are attempting to gain enough support to table motions to exclude Sinn Fein from the powersharing government because of the IRA's refusal to disarm.

However, the four parties in the executive have agreed on the programme for government before SDLP Finance Minister Mark Durkan announces his draft 6bn Budget on Tuesday.

'Tackling inequality'

Sir Reg Empey said that the draft programme dealt with five broad areas.

Reg Empey
Reg Empey: "We need to create an infrastructure to promote growth"
In the first of these he said the executive aimed to develop new methods of helping local communities resolve their divisions together.

He said it also aimed to tackle inequalities in health and housing, fight poverty and provide educational and economic opportunities.

Sir Reg said 40m would be made available to upgrade a number of roads on important network routes to ensure that Northern Ireland had a strong infrastructure which would promote economic growth.

This, he said, would allow funding for upgrading the Westlink in Belfast, completing the dualling scheme on the A8 road from Belfast to Larne and dualling part of the Northern Ireland section of the Newry to Dundalk road - on the main route from Belfast to Dublin.

Consultation period

The plan will now be considered by the assembly and published for wider consultation before final decisions on funding allocations are made and the executive's Budget is completed in December.

Seamus Mallon:
Seamus Mallon: "Programme emphasises partnership approach"
Sir Reg said the administration's overriding objective was that of improving the quality of life for everyone in Northern Ireland.

He said: "Investing in education and skills is perhaps the key action of the programme.

"Education and training opens opportunities for everyone to reach their potential. Having a skilled and learning workforce will be crucial in establishing an advanced economic base.

'Partnership approach'

In his statement to the assembly, Seamus Mallon said the devolved administration wanted to stress its partnership approach to governing

DUP regional development minister Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell welcomed roads funding plans
He said: "The programme for government represents a contract between the executive and assembly and the people of Northern Ireland, mapping out a new, agreed, direction.

"Cohesion, inclusion, and justice are the three themes underpinning both it and the implementation of all programmes and policies."

He said the executive's fifth priority - 'Developing North/South, East/West and International Relations' - recognised that the devolved government "cannot tackle Northern Ireland's problems in an insular way.

"We must therefore focus on developing more effective links with Europe and North America."

DUP Regional Development Minister, Gregory Campbell welcomed the commitment to the roads infrastructure in the draft programme.

He said: "I have taken every opportunity to draw attention to the serious deficiencies in our roads infrastructure and the need to mobilise significant additional resources to address this over a realistic timescale."

However, DUP leader Ian Paisley accused the executive of leaving out the victims of terrorism in the draft programme.

He also said that more than 200 promises contained in the last programme for government had not been fulfilled.

And he added that there was no mention from Sir Reg or Mr Mallon of the crisis within the executive with attempts by the Ulster Unionists to expel Sinn Fein.

He said: "It ill becomes in this state of play in Northern Ireland to have this form of government and this programme for government when we have a party in the executive that is linked to IRA/Sinn Fein."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Ronan Breen reports:
"The assembly will consider the plan before it goes out for consultation"

Assembly back

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See also:

22 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Can devolution survive?
20 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
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24 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble calls for Sinn Fein expulsion
23 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Trimble threat to exclude Sinn Fein
17 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Broad welcome for first NI budget
24 Oct 00 | Northern Ireland
Trimble and Mallon unveil priorities
22 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Public spending is re-directed
12 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Extra funding in revised budget
02 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
Assembly 'will hold funds over'
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