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Baroness Amos: It is clear from the recent consultation on A Shared Futureimproving relations in Northern Ireland that people in Northern Ireland want action to eliminate sectarianism and racism and to be able to live and work without fear of intimidation. Also, consultees urged government to take action to reduce tension and conflict at interface areas and support the development of integrated/shared communities where people wish to learn, live, work and play together.
Government are considering the outcome of the consultation and will bring forward proposals later this year on a new policy for improving relations in Northern Ireland. In the mean time, government will continue to harness actions across departments and agencies, working closely with its social and economic partners, to achieve measurable improvements in equality, poverty and disadvantage, and community cohesion. They will also demonstrate their commitment to tackling race crime and sectarian crime by bringing forward draft legislation shortly.
Baroness Amos: A cohesive community is a peaceful, inclusive, stable and fair society, firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, mutual trust and the protection and vindication of human rights for all. It is based on partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of good relationships. A cohesive community is one in which everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.
Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society with patterns of fear that have become ingrained. However, promoting equality of opportunity and justice for all, building trust and confidence between and within communities, developing social capital and tackling racism and sectarianism remain key priorities for government.
The Government will pursue these priorities through a broad range of policies and programmes which are set out in the published document Priorities and Budget 200406. These include the putting in place of a new policy and strategy to promote good relations, further measures to combat poverty and social exclusion, a neighbourhood renewal programme, the development of targeted employment initiatives tailored to meet local needs through partnership working and steps to facilitate the growth of the community and voluntary sector to increase its business strength and create a supportive enabling environment. A copy of the Priorities and Budget 200406 document is available in the Library.
Baroness Amos: The Government recognise the key contribution of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. It is not possible to identify the specific allocations that all departments may make to the voluntary and community sector, but the Government will continue to work in partnership with the voluntary and community sector in the development of public services. Additional funding amounting to £7 million has been made available for 200405, through the Voluntary and Community Unit in the Department for Social Development, to support capacity building in the voluntary and community sector and to support essential services delivered by the sector. This includes £3 million per annum available through the Local Community Fund. This fund was established in 2003 to help build trust and confidence and develop community capacity and leadership.
Baroness Amos: The budgetary process as set out in the financial memorandum for each North/South implementation body requires each body to prepare, in consultation with the sponsor and finance departments, a three-year corporate plan and an annual business plan, including financial projections. This material, and associated dialogue, is taken into account in all funding decisions for the bodies.
Baroness Amos: The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in consultation with representatives of the Ulster-Scots community, has been considering how best to take this matter forward. An Ulster-Scots Future Search Implementation Group, comprising participants from the Ulster-Scots community and the statutory sector, has been set up and I am pleased to report that the first meeting is scheduled for February 2004.
Baroness Amos: The present 18 parliamentary constituencies were created in Northern Ireland by the Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The 1995 Register of Electors (towards the end of the Review) was 1,169,423. The 1996 Register of Electors showed the total electorate as 1,176,927.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): As of 22 January 2004, there were 19 outstanding cases in the European Court of Justice against the UK alleging failure to implement EU law. At the same time, there were 32 cases outstanding against France, 28 each against Germany and Italy, and 20 against Belgium.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Government have been in regular contact with all member and accession states, including Ireland, during the IGC, both at ministerial and official level. In the Conclusions of the December European Council, the Irish Presidency was requested on the basis of consultations to make an assessment of the prospect for progress and to report to the European Council in March. This year, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met the Taoiseach on 19 January, where the IGC was discussed.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Government are currently reviewing the United Kingdom's position in relation to a number of international human rights instruments. This review includes the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which allows the right of individual petition. The very wide scope of the review, and the number of government departments involved, have caused the review to take longer than expected. We will announce its outcomes to Parliament as soon as is reasonably possible.
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