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11 March 2015

Question Time: Social Development - Tuesday 10 March 2015



Oral Question time to the Minister for Social Development began with the Minister answering Mr Mile's question on what actions the Ministers Department plans to take to regenerate Magherafelt town centre. The Minister stated that "the regeneration of Magherafelt town centre has been an ongoing commitment of my Department. Since June 2012, DSD has committed funding of £529,493 for regeneration projects, including the Queen Street revitalisation scheme, at £150,000; funding of £100,000 for the marketing and branding of Magherafelt and the associated town centre Wi-Fi project, which continues to evolve; a funding contribution of £37,000 for the gateway art features to be installed at the end of March 2015; £90,000 to fund the consultancy team to develop the Magherafelt public realm scheme up to detailed design stage; and funding of £152,493 for the regeneration of Rainey Street, with works scheduled to complete by 31 March 2015".

The Minister had to answer a similar question to Mrs Hale as she asked the Minister to outline the investment in public realm works in Lisburn since 2011. The Minister explained to the member that "my Department has invested approximately £3·2 million in public realm works in Lisburn since April 2011. That investment, which includes new granite paving, new street furniture, enhanced lighting, tree planting, a spectacular event place and resurfacing works, will result in significant improvements to the main thoroughfares of Market Square, Market Street, Bow Street, Market Lane, Graham Gardens and Haslems Lane.

Topical Questions to the Social Development Minister concentrated solely on Welfare Reform. Mr A Maginness asked the Minister whether Sinn Féin expressed any concerns about welfare reform during the meetings that it was suggested that he had with its representatives over the course of last week. The Minister replied with " to say that we were shocked would be to put it mildly. What happened in the House and in the Building yesterday was monumental for the future of these institutions. I think that it was clear from what happened yesterday that other agendas are at work. I do not think that they are all down to concerns about welfare.

Let me place it on record that I met Sinn Féin last Thursday after the Executive meeting, when concerns had been expressed. Those concerns about how we implement the Stormont Castle agreement have been going on over a period of time. Let us remember that we had an agreement, or we thought we had an agreement. It was a five-party agreement that set out the terms and conditions and the funding for how we would move forward on welfare reform. When I brought all those issues to the House through Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage, we underlined the importance of the regulations and of the schemes that would introduce the supplementary payment fund and the other four schemes. The scheme on universal credit was approved at the Executive on Thursday. I have given my commitment, which is on public record, a number of times that I will work with those who have issues of concern and that they will be brought to the House. The meeting took place, and concerns were expressed.

The Minister was also asked about the Disputed Figures relating to the Stormont Castle Agreement, Sinn Fein's Position regarding the Welfare Reform and how the Repossessions Strategy will unfold and where it will offer assistance for people to stay in their homes.