During topical questions to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, Brenda Hale asked deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness what help he could offer to the families of the Disappeared in their quest to have their bodies returned for a family burial. Mr McGuinness emphasised that his “full sympathy and compassion are with all those families” saying that “what happened to those families was totally and absolutely wrong”. The deputy First Minister then reiterated his appeal for anyone with information to come forward.
Moving on to the scheduled list of oral questions the deputy First Minister provided Leslie Cree with an update on the economic pact (a pact signed with the UK Government in July 2013 which includes commitments such as tax relief, visa waivers and banking-related incentives). As a result of the pact Northern Ireland will continue to have assisted area status until 2017 having been due to lose it in 2014. Since the pact was agreed the Executive and UK Government “continue to make progress towards the commitments made” including undertaking analysis to inform the possibility of establishing enterprise zones, determining how to make access to finance easier for local businesses and concentrating on the devolution of corporation tax powers within the agreed timescale. Mr McGuinness also moved to allay any fears that delays in finding suitable sites for shared housing and education may jeopardise the £100m secured in the pact for this purpose, saying that he is satisfied with the current work of the Ministers involved pointing to the Lisanelly project as a sign of progress.
Junior Minister Jennifer McCann then provided the House with an update on the urban village regeneration projects when questioned by Jimmy Spratt. The project is part of OFMdFM’s ‘Together: Building a United Community’ Strategy. Four villages in areas of deprivation will be targeted for regeneration. Consideration is currently being given to the location of the projects and there will be an announcement “in due course”.