agendaNi issue 110

Page 1

...informing Northern Ireland’s decision-makers

Agility in the face of economic challenge InterTradeIreland’s Margaret Hearty ECONOMY REPORT 2022 The Financial Times’

Fiscal Commission NI

Finance Minister

Philip Stephens

Chair Paul Johnson

Conor Murphy MLA

discusses the new

on the potential for

on delivering

Prime Minister’s

tax devolution to

social value

economic reality

Northern Ireland

through public spending

Issue issue110 8 Sep/Oct Aug/Sep2022 11

Economy report Tax • Education skills report • •Public Carbon • Specialand Reports: Health ICT affairs

£2.95 €4.95 / £2.95

Digital Government 2022 Titanic Belfast ∙ Wednesday 19th October

r diary u o y r o Date f

Sponsored by

An agendaNi event

This major annual conference and exhibition features a range of expert speakers who will talk about their digital transformation journey. The future design and delivery of our public services is being revolutionised. Register now and join leaders from across Northern Ireland’s public sector for a day of discussion and networking.

Speakers include: Ignatius O’Doherty Director of Digital Shared Services NICS Enterprise Shared Services

Pamela McCreedy Chief Operating Officer Police Service of Northern Ireland

Ruth Buckley CIO Cork City Councilf Health

Dan West Chief Digital Information Officer Department of Health

Martyn Wallace Chief Digital Officer Scottish Local Government

Gillian Armstrong Senior Solutions Architect Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Adrian Johnston Director of Strategic Business Development Catalyst

Clare Costello Head of Digital and Customer Information Translink

Andrew Bruce Director of Software Development Delivery Expleo

John Glennane CEO Capventis

Exhibition opportunities There are a limited number of opportunities to become involved as an exhibitor. For further information contact Karen Fitzmaurice on 028 9261 9933 or email

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12 04

Matters arising


Issues 08

The state of ill-health


Cover story: Agility in the face of north-south



Social enterprise in focus: Madlug


Social enterprise APG chair Stewart Dickson MLA


Education and skills

economic challenge, InterTradeIreland’s


Education: Budgetary pressures

Margaret Hearty


Education Authority review

The Financial Times’ Philip Stephens


Integrated Education Act: An important first step

economic reality What to expect from Prime Minister Liz Truss MP




discusses the new Prime Minister’s 34



Public affairs 86

People: Martin Parr’s From the Pope to a flat white



David Trimble obituary: ‘A man in a hurry’



UCC’s Mary C Murphy on Northern Ireland

In focus: The Northern Ireland economy

44 48


The Brexit ‘power grab’

have all the workers gone?


After the fall: Boris Johnson’s legacy


Back page: NHS crisis is a problem

Fiscal Commission NI Chair Paul Johnson: More fiscal devolution for Northern Ireland?


after Brexit

NERI Co-director Paul MacFlynn: Where

Conor Murphy MLA: Placing social value at the heart of public procurement

for our economy

Northern Ireland Energy Forum 2022 Thursday 10th November • Titanic Belfast

Northern Ireland’s major annual energy conference Sponsored by

The 20th annual Northern Ireland

Key issues covered during the 2022 Forum will include:

Energy Forum will take place on Thursday 10th November at Titanic Belfast. The 2022 Forum will once again bring together all the key players in the energy sector in

✓ Energy policy in Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Energy Strategy 2050; ✓ Regulatory and market update; ✓ The future role of gas, biomethane and hydrogen;

Northern Ireland and this full day

✓ Decarbonising electricity: towards a flexible electricity system and market;

event will focus on the most critical

✓ The next phase of renewable energy development support;

aspects of energy policy in Northern

✓ Empowering the consumer and enabling communities;

Ireland. It is a not to be missed event

✓ Energy security: investing in key energy infrastructure;

for anyone with an interest in the

✓ Delivering low carbon heat for homes and industry;

local energy industry.

✓ Energy storage developments; ✓ Smart networks in the digital energy future; ✓ Moving towards sustainable energy systems; ✓ Energy projects update; ✓ Planning for energy infrastructure projects.

Sponsorship opportunities available There are still a number of sponsorship and exhibition opportunities available. This is an excellent way for organisations to raise their profile with a key audience of senior decision makers from across Northern Ireland’s energy sector. For further information on the packages remaining and speaking opportunities at the event call Owen McQuade on +44 (0)28 9261 9933 or email

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agendaNi Issue 110 Sept/Oct 2022 Digital


Print Editorial

In Liz we Truss? In 2016, a lesser-known Environment Secretary by the name of Liz Truss MP told a Balmoral Show crowd that her reasons for supporting the remain camp in the Brexit referendum was to avoid spending years on a messy divorce from Europe, instead of doing what is “really important”. Ironically, all ears are now tuned to hear how the same Liz Truss, recast as a Brexiteer Prime Minister, will approach negotiations with the EU around the Protocol – mainly in hope that Northern Ireland’s democratic institutions can be salvaged before then turning their attentions to what is ‘really important’. While Northern Ireland may inadvertently benefit from Truss’s pledges to mitigate soaring energy costs and kickstart the economy, it is highly unlikely that the British Government’s priorities specifically target ingrained problems in Northern Ireland, not least a healthcare system crippled by systemic failure as epitomised by a series of ongoing public inquiries, as well as the UK’s longest hospital waiting lists. Nor will it seek to address the long-standing causes of the underperforming economy. In this issue, we highlight some of the causes of the economic underperformance and assess potential solutions, including the prospect of some fiscal devolution and the benefits of social enterprise. Our cover story interview with InterTradeIreland shows that politics aside, organisations and businesses continue to work to mitigate economic turbulence and seek new opportunities, not least in meeting net zero targets. In our education report, we look at the realities facing a sector in need of financial support to deliver on expectations. Our public affairs highlights include a reflection on the legacy of Boris Johnson and the career of the late David Trimble, alongside an interview with renowned documentary photographer Martin Parr. David Whelan

David Whelan, Editor Fiona McCarthy Ciarán Galway Odrán Waldron Joshua Murray Circulation and Marketing Lynda Millar Events Jillian Wallace Advertising Lynda Millar lynda.millar@agendani.comm Design Gareth Duffy, Head of Design Jamie Hogan Subscriptions Sharon Morrison Email: Online: agendaNi Owen McQuade, Publisher bmf Business Services 19a Maghaberry Road Maghaberry, Co Antrim, BT67 0JE Tel: +44 (0) 28 9261 9933 Twitter: @agendani FSC® is an acronym for the Forest Stewardship Council®, which is an independent, non-governmental, notfor-profit organization that was established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC® system provides an assurance that products such as wood and paper have been harvested in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The FSC’s Chain of Custody certification provides a way in which the material can be tracked from the certified initial source through the manufacturing process to the end user.

matters arising


New Secretary of State: Chris Heaton-Harris MP The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss MP, has appointed hard-line Brexiteer and former Chair of the ERG, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

against the former Chief Accountant of the European Union, Marta Andreasen, in 2002. In a brief statement on social media, Heaton Harris said that he was “honoured to be appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland”.

Heaton-Harris, like nearly all of the new cabinet appointees, was a supporter of the Prime Minister in her bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and had served as Government Chief Whip for the last seven months of Boris Johnson MP’s premiership.

“Looking forward to questions in the House [of Commons]… heading out to Northern Ireland and getting to work with the Northern Ireland Office.”

Heaton-Harris was first elected to the House of Commons in 2010, and represents the Tory safe seat of Daventry, in Northamptonshire.

Heaton-Harris replaces Shailesh Vara MP in his role. Vara spent July and August 2022 as Secretary of State, and enters the history books as the shortest serving Northern Ireland Secretary.

A self-described “fierce Eurosceptic”, he served as an MEP between 1999 and 2009, where he notably brought a case


HSC announces new digital strategy

The HSC has announced a new digital strategy for the health service in Northern Ireland, which states that the health service is beginning “a digital transformation journey that will see us make major investments to deliver a better quality of care to the people of Northern Ireland”. The strategy states that there are three means of measuring the success of the strategy, which are centred around the delivery for the population, the staff of the HSC, and the success of the HSC itself as a service. For the population, the strategy aims to deliver “consistent reliable services that enable our population to have greater control and visibility over their health and


agenda matters

care, as well as better interaction with HSC”. For the HSC staff, the use of integrated systems and time saving solutions, alongside reliable and accessible data for better outcomes, is aimed at reducing their workload. For the health service itself, the development of digital services and products support a system response to improving care pathways – including enabling the population to manage their own health and care more autonomously, thus reducing demand on the health services. Within the strategy, there are three supporting strategies: a data strategy; a cybersecurity strategy; and an innovation strategy.

Credit: Maxwells Dublin

matters arising


Queen Elizabeth II: 1926-2022 Elizabeth II’s last formal engagement was the swearing in of Prime Minister Liz Truss MP on 6 September, the 15th Prime Minister she has sworn in, the first of whom was Winston Churchill.

As we go to print, Britain is preparing for the funeral of its longest serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away at the age of 96. Having celebrated the 70th anniversary of her reign this year, the Queen is succeeded by her son, King Charles III.

Having died at her Balmoral home in Scotland, the Queen’s coffin travelled to the Palace of Westminster to lie in state from 14 September until 19 September, the day of her funeral. On Monday 12 September, the Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled so that MLAs could pay tribute to the monarch.


SDLP forms ‘constructive opposition’ The SDLP has formally created an official opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

mandate, they created the mechanisms by which an official opposition can be formed in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The move follows a disappointing election result for the party in May’s Assembly elections, which saw it reduced from 12 to 8 seats, thus disqualifying it from nominating any ministers to the Executive under the D’Hondt mechanism.

The 2016 legislation affords the largest and second largest nonexecutive parties the role of ‘leader of the opposition’ and ‘deputy leader of the opposition’ respectively. Sinn Féin and the DUP, as the biggest parties for the ‘nationalist’ and ‘unionist’ designations respectively, cannot enter opposition and must nominate ministers to the Executive.

With its former Stormont leader Nichola Mallon having lost her seat, the party has nominated Matthew O’Toole MLA as the leader of the Opposition, as party leader Colum Eastwood MP serves in Westminster. Between 2016 and 2017, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party attempted to create an official opposition, and refused to nominate ministers to the Executive. Whilst the formal process could not be completed due to the short lifespan of that

Outlining his vision, leader of the opposition Matthew O’Toole MLA says: “Our opposition to the politics of division and deadlock which has infected Stormont is about transforming this place and the lives of all its citizens. My appeal to others is that if you’ve had enough of the failure, then join us. We can build something much better together.”

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matters arising


Carville appointed new Comptroller and Auditor Dorinnia Carville was confirmed as the new Comptroller and Auditor General at the Northern Ireland Audit Office in August. She was first nominated for the position in March 2022, having been proposed by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission. Prior to assuming her new role, Carville was the Acting Chief Executive of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council between February 2022 and August 2022. Before that, she was the Council’s Director of Corporate Services since April 2016. She has previously served as Director of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, and in accounting for PwC and KPMG. She is a graduate of law and politics at Queen’s University Belfast.

Carville also holds a number of voluntary roles in the public sector as well as the voluntary and community sector, including as a board trustee for Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid. She succeeds Kieran Donnelly, who served in the role between September 2009 and August 2022. Upon her nomination in March 2022, then-Speaker Alex Maskey stated that Carville “brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the role of Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland, with a career that is rich in public sector audit experience. I have no doubt that Ms Carville will serve the public sector professionally and diligently”.


HSTF: Ensuring high streets which are fit for the 21st century The High Street Task Force (HSTF) published a report in March outlining the challenges for high streets in Northern Ireland in ensuring that they adapt to modern circumstances. The report identifies ‘positive steps’ which have involved collaboration between central government and local authorities, and says: “These efforts should continue, but should be informed by our proposals on the importance of local leadership and our strong recommendation that such places become much more diverse in their role as places to live and socialise as well as to work and do business.” There are nine courses of action which have been recommended for the short to medium term.


agenda matters

Short-term, within the next year, the report recommends that the Executive increases support for the cities and city regions, whilst further recommending that it should support: a living high streets programme; a living high streets fund and; immediate rates relief. In the medium term, the next two to three years, there needs to be the establishment of a high streets investment programme, high street council plans, smart high streets, fair work on high streets, and a high street challenge fund. The fruition of these recommendations will require the establishment of a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland.

matters arising


Civil Service assumes control of Stormont finances The UK Government has invoked section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act, granting emergency powers to the Department of Finance to ease spending restrictions which have arisen due to the collapse of the Executive. Without the agreement of a budget, the respective departments are restricted to 45 per cent of the allocation of their budgets. Most departments are now approaching that threshold, thus necessitating the invoking of the emergency legislation. The legislation means that the control of Stormont’s finances will now be assumed by Neil Gibson, a senior civil servant in the Department of Finance.

The challenge of working

with interpreters Diversity NI is leading the way in terms of the quality of training for its 700+ fully qualified, tested, monitored, and qualitycontrolled interpreters.

Working with public and private sector clients to deliver vital translation and interpreting services, Diversity NI now offers clients access to 75 global languages. Operating an accredited OCN Centre, the business has significantly increased its extensive and in-depth training programmes for interpreters based on its insights from managing important

Gibson assumed the role of Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance earlier this year, and is a former Chief Economist of Ireland for EY. He is also a former director of Oxford Economics. He holds a degree in applied economics from Ulster University and a master’s in computer science and applications from Queen’s University Belfast. Gibson now has the power to allocate up to £400 million in unallocated funds which have not been assigned in a budget. He will not be able to fund projects which have not been started but can continue allocating funding towards ongoing projects which were started before the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

aspects of the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme.

Working with Interpreters Guidelines’ to further benefit and educate its clients.

In the Q1 and Q2 2022, these learnings have been incredibly vital as the business sought to help Ukrainian refugees by funding and training 17 Ukrainian interpreters in response to the Ukraine conflict.

“This is a two-way process and there is an onus on the client/service provider to also understand the role of the interpreter. Our training has been incredibly well received, particularly by public sector organisations who understand the need to gain experience and training to improve sessions with those from other cultures who speak a different language,” says Hawthorne.

“Our role is to ensure that our interpreters are of the highest standard, delivering trusted translations that are fair and accurate for both parties. The preparation for this is key which is why all our interpreters are fully qualified and receive ongoing training,” comments Paolina Hawthorne, Managing Director of Diversity NI. “It is our goal that when an interpreter begins a job, they quickly establish trust with both parties. For us, the skill of impartiality and how to manage difficult situations are in the backbone of our training programmes.” Similar training is also offered to service providers, and Diversity NI has recently introduced ‘IGS Best Practice in

Managing multiple public sector contracts and business for private clients, Diversity NI is one of the largest and most experienced translating and interpreting agencies in Northern Ireland. W:

issues agenda

The state of ill-health Amidst the growing waiting list crisis in health and social care in Northern Ireland, public inquiries ranging neurology, urology, hyponatremia and potentially care homes have highlighted systemic failings in the health service which go beyond an absence of decision-makers or funding, writes David Whelan. On Saturday 3 September 2022 a collective of campaigners including those affected by some of Northern Ireland’s worst health scandals gathered at Stormont under the slogan ‘enough is enough’. The protest served to highlight the extent of recent systemic failures within the health and social care system, on top of the day-to-day pressures which are evident in rising waiting lists and a multitude of missed targets. The crisis in Northern Ireland’s health system has been long standing and in most cases have been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and the stop-start nature of a functioning Executive to implement and fund long-term reform. However, failures extend beyond these existential impacts and when pieced together, the outlook for the current state of healthcare is bleak. 8

agenda issues

Context In June, a statutory public inquiry into Northern Ireland’s largest ever patient recall – only converted from an independent inquiry after two years of work – found that the Belfast Trust had failed to intervene quickly enough in the practice of neurologist Michael Watt. Over 5,000 former patients were invited to have their cases examined for possible misdiagnosis of conditions including stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s disease. The inquiry identified “numerous failings” and said that the failings meant that patterns in the consultant’s work were missed for a decade. It is estimated that around 20 per cent of those patients who had their case reexamined had not been given an

appropriate management plan for their condition and a similar number had not been issued an appropriate prescription. Alongside a finding that the Belfast Trust should and could have intervened earlier, the inquiry stated that failures were not confined to the Trust and that communications between different organisations and management levels were inadequate. Worryingly, the findings of patients at the centre of a dysfunctional system which failed to put them first are not unique. In November 2022, a separate public inquiry established to review the Southern Health and Social Care Trust’s handling of urology services prior to May 2020, is to formally open. More than 1,000 former patients of a now-retired urology consultant were recalled in 2020 following

issues agenda

Patients starting treatment within/over the 62-day target following an urgent GP referral for suspect cancer Number treated Over 62 days Witnin 62 days

450 400 350 300 300 250 200 150 100 50 0

April 2008

September 2011

February 2011

July 2012

serious concerns about his clinical practice as part of an internal investigation by the Trust. Added to this, to date over 170 persons have made contact with the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry announced in 2020 after pressure from families, with evidence gathering now extended until the end of 2022 due to the volume. Muckamore, a hospital for vulnerable adults, was at the centre of abuse and neglect allegations which came to light in 2017 and saw police arrest 34 people, with more than 70 staff suspended. The inquiry will scrutinise the role of the Department of Health, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which is in charge of Muckamore Abbey. Following the publication of a review of leadership and governance at the hospital in 2020, Health Minister Robin Swann MLA apologised for what he described as “a sustained failure of care”. Also in attendance at the Stormont protest in September were some of the families of five children who died from hyponatraemia in Northern Ireland, a condition which can be caused when fluids are not administered properly. In 2018, one of Northern Ireland’s longest running public inquiries found that four of the five deaths examined had been preventable and its Chair, Mr Justice O’Hara, stating that some witnesses to the inquiry “had to have the truth dragged out of them”, gave a scathing assessment of the health service, saying that “doctors and managers cannot be relied upon to do the right thing at the right time”.

December 2013

May 2015

October 2016

March 2018

Care homes Also potentially on the horizon is a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in care homes. Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Older People has called for one after it was revealed that deaths in care homes account for roughly 30 per cent of all Covid-related deaths. The Health Minister has hinted that it is under consideration, but to date nothing has been announced. Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a UK-wide Covid-19 inquiry, which is expected to begin evidence gathering this year, but Scotland has opted to establish its own inquiry. Calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to conduct an inquiry specifically looking at the care and management of residents and care homes, Commissioner Eddie Lynch said: “Covid has impacted us all, but for older people, and particularly care home residents, those impacts have been exceptionally arduous. Over the past year we witnessed the incorrect recording of care home deaths, families having no access to loved ones, personal protective equipment (PPE) supply problems, inappropriate use of do not attempt resuscitation orders, the slow introduction of testing, the transfer of Covid-positive patients into care homes – the list goes on.”

A crisis in waiting The extent of the systemic failures in health and social care have damaged public confidence in the system, already at a low ebb because of persistent failure to deliver transformation to a system

August 2019

January 2021

Source: NISRA

under unsustainable pressure. Despite the delivery of a range of strategies in recent years, the absence of a multiyear Executive budget have often meant that long-term strategies in health have been delivered with the caveat of the need for resources. In June 2021, Swann announced a new Elective Care Framework to tackle waiting lists to “restore hope” with a planned investment £700 million over five years, however like many of the newly announced strategies, a dysfunctional Northern Ireland Executive and failure of the political parties to agree a multiannual budget has left plans beyond year one in limbo. Meanwhile, the health system’s ability to deal with demand is worsening, leading many to assess the state of the current system as broken. Latest hospital figures depict a system that is failing some of the society’s most vulnerable.

Cancer The 2021/22 draft ministerial target for cancer care services states that at least 95 per cent of patients urgently referred with a suspected cancer should begin their first definitive treatment within 62 days. Not only has the target not been met on a regional level for three years, but a significant gap exists between the target and the service being delivered. In March 2021, just 48 per cent of those urgently referred by their GP with a suspected cancer had begun definitive treatment within 62 days, less than the 49 per cent achieved for the same month in the year previous.

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issues agenda

Patients starting treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral for suspect cancer in the Belfast Trust (%) Target Belfast







April 2008

November 2009

June 2011

Contextualising the concern around delay, figures collected by NISRA show that over 37 per cent of those patients waiting longer than the 62-day target in March 2022 were diagnosed with urological cancer.

Emergency care Latest statistics show that almost one in seven emergency department (ED) attendees have been referred by a GP, perhaps reflecting the significant burden also being placed on general practice. Also reflective of the current pressures, almost 7 per cent of ED attendees left before their treatment was complete, a significant jump from the roughly 4 per cent average recorded in 2014. The Department of Health’s current targets on emergency care waiting times for 2022/23 state that 95 per cent of patients attending type 1, 2, or 3 emergency departments should either be treated, discharged, or admitted within four hours of arrival and that no patient should be waiting longer than 12 hours. In June 2022, just 51.5 per cent had been seen within the four-hour timeframe across the three categories, a 7.5 per cent fall from the same month in 2021. In the same timeframe, over 2,700 more patients waited over the 12-hour target than had done in 2021, despite EDs experiencing an almost 5 per cent drop in attendances.


agenda issues

January 2013

August 2014

March 2016

October 2017

Inpatient/outpatient Outside of EDs the situation is equally bleak, despite a target of 50 per cent of patients waiting no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment by March 2022, and no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks, over 80 per cent of patients were waiting longer than nine weeks at the end of June 2022 and over half were waiting more than 52 weeks. The Department’s aim is that no more than 55 per cent of patients should wait longer than 13 weeks for inpatient or day case treatment, with no one waiting longer than 52 weeks, however, at present, the number of patients waiting to be admitted to hospitals has actually risen by over 10 per cent than was the case at the end of June 2021. Over 80 per cent of patients were waiting to be admitted for treatment longer than the 13-week target and over 58 per cent were waiting over 52 weeks. Worryingly, diagnostic targets are also being significantly missed. As of March 2022, 75 per cent of patients should be waiting no longer than nine weeks for a test but over 52 per cent were doing so at 31 March 2021. Over a third of patients were waiting more than 26 weeks.

Budget The prospect of any immediate improvements in service delivery appears

May 2019

December 2020

minimal when considering that despite political agreement that any future budget would increase resources to the Department of Health to mitigate the crisis, the necessary execution of emergency arrangements around departmental funding in the absence of a fully functioning Executive means no uplift for the Department is available. In a recent letter to Executive colleagues, Swann said that the absence of an agreed budget would lead to three key funding pressures in the form of staff pay, waiting list pressures and rising energy costs, requiring a potential overspend of some £400 million for the health service to stand still. Undoubtedly, the failure to secure continuity in the Executive’s decisionmaking, coupled with the absence of a budget and the additional pressures associated with Covid-19 have hampered health service delivery, however, there is also evidence to suggest that the system as was, was faltering and failing the most vulnerable. Ambitions to transform the health service must address the shortcomings of frontline care but there must also be recognition that a legacy of systemic failures requires a huge culture change. Only then can public confidence begin to be restored.

matrix: Championing science and technology's role in economic growth Last year, DfE published its 10X vision for the regional economy to grow in the coming decade; 10X aims to transform the Northern Ireland economy and identified a range of technologies which will shape the future economy. Matrix is also currently a key adviser to NI government on the city and region deals, prioritisation of public R&D funding, and more generally how funding ought to be disbursed to best effect on high tech and science based commercial opportunities. Matrix, as a trusted partner across government, is and will remain key to ensuring that Northern Ireland capitalises on the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda. The expertise of the Matrix Panel, not only in science and technology, but also across business and commercialisation will shape the conversation around what we need to Robert Grundy, Chair of Matrix.

Matrix is the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, an expert group drawn from business and academic leaders, which advises the Department for the Economy on the commercial exploitation of science, technology and research and development. The panel is chaired by Robert Grundy, a life scientist and respected academic with a focus on the commercial development of differentiating innovation across science and technology. A collaborative endeavour, Matrix was formed in 2007, with the primary aim to champion the role of science and technology and research and development (R&D) as one of the key drivers of economic growth in Northern Ireland and provide invaluable industry engagement for policymakers across a variety of key sectors. In the 15 years since its inception, Matrix has produced a suite of respected foresight and horizon scanning reports examining growth areas such as creative technologies, advanced manufacturing and materials engineering, artificial intelligence, and life and health sciences.

achieve these goals and provide a better economy that serves all our citizens. However, Matrix does not operate in a vacuum and advice from external stakeholders is regularly sought to provide insight beyond the expertise of the panel members. Truly transformative change can only take place in a collaborative way and Matrix aims to ensure that the best advice is sought to build on the evidence for strategic policy decisions needed to meet and exceed the goals of the 10X vision. If you’d like to pose a challenge to the panel for consideration, learn more about the work Matrix does and how its reports shape government policy, you can visit the Matrix website at:

W: S: L:

This research provides the evidence base to Northern Ireland government for future science and technology policies and strategies that will ensure Northern Ireland’s sustainable competitiveness in the UK and in the global economy. Additionally, Matrix promotes a culture of innovation in the wider science and technology community across Northern Ireland by championing key organisations and events such as the NI Science Festival, Pulsar – The NI Women in STEM Hub and others that shine a light on the region’s growing stature as an innovation powerhouse.

cover story

Agility in the face of northsouth economic challenges Margaret Hearty, InterTradeIreland Chief Executive, discusses how the north-south trade and business development body has reviewed its offering and structure, to ensure it meets the needs of businesses trading cross-border in a rapidly changing economic landscape.


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Margaret Hearty, Chief Executive, explains that InterTradeIreland, a key economic development agency, prides itself on being an agile organisation, supporting businesses right across the island to take advantage of cross-border trade and development opportunities. It is this emphasis on agility that has allowed the body to respond swiftly to changes in the economic climate and the changing needs of businesses right across the island, namely Brexit and Covid-19. InterTradeIreland delivers cross-border trade and business development initiatives that align with the economic and enterprise policy priorities of both governments, which include growing cross-border exports and investment in innovation that drives productivity, jobs, and growth. Since inception, the body has supported over 50,000 businesses resulting in £1.3 billion in business development value and over 19,500 jobs.

An agile organisation In order to remain a nimble and reactive organisation that aligns and adds value to policy priorities in Ireland and Northern Ireland, a realignment of its structure is timely. Hearty, who took up post as Chief Executive in April 2021, having previously worked in a number of key roles in the organisation, sets out the context of the realignment: “A vital part of my role as CEO at InterTradeIreland, is to ensure that the organisation remains agile in our response to market trends and challenges, and that we continue to provide the right supports, funding and advice to SMEs across the island of Ireland. “As demand for our services continues to grow, we as an organisation also need to take the advice we give to businesses of embracing digitilisation to meet demand. For the body, this means delivering more online services whilst maintaining a quality and relational service. In 2021, we directly supported over 4,000 businesses, generating an additional £110 million of business development value and supported the creation and protection of almost 19,000 jobs, with ambitions to grow these numbers further.”

Resilience through crossborder trade

“It can also provide SMEs with a wider network of collaborative partners, allowing them to innovate more quickly

The Chief Executive praises the resilience shown by businesses in the testing economic climate and recognises that InterTradeIreland must continue to adapt and promote its supports, as resilience is being further tested by additional challenges such as rising costs and skills shortages.

and tap into industry knowledge that

The desire to increase the number of first time exporters is an ambition shared by both governments and cross-border exporting presents a logical and natural first export step for many SMEs.

businesses can benefit from an expert

would not easily be available to them.” The Chief Executive explains that for first time exporters, InterTradeIreland understands how daunting a new export market might seem but emphasises that through its dedicated Trade team, team who will provide the right supports, funding and advice to help them unlock their potential for trade on the island of Ireland.

“A vital part of my role as CEO at InterTradeIreland, is to ensure that the organisation remains agile in our response to market trends and challenges, and that we continue to provide the right supports, funding and advice to SMEs across the island of Ireland.” InterTradeIreland has a significant role to play here. Data from InterTradeIreland’s latest All-Island Business Monitor survey of businesses owners, reveals that in Q2 of this year businesses that export cross-border are outperforming businesses that do not, with 41 per cent enjoying moderate or rapid growth/expansion. This is almost double compared to non cross-border traders (21 per cent).

“Our dedicated Trade team headed up by our recently appointed Director of Trade, Colin McCabrey, are on hand to help businesses connect with the right trading opportunities and ensure they get the right support to help them achieve faster and more sustainable growth.”

At the beginning of 2022, Irish import trade with Northern Ireland had risen by 23 per cent when compared to the same timeframe the previous year, while Irish exports to Northern Ireland were up 42 per cent for the same period.

Collaborative partnerships on the island of Ireland that bring together entrepreneurs, academics, policy makers, corporates and third sector participants continue to grow in importance and are an important feature of trade and enterprise development. Such collaborations are important to turning common challenges into opportunities in areas such as transitioning to a low-carbon economy, the bioeconomy, cybersecurity and

“The evolving cross-border market on the island of Ireland offers significant advantages to businesses, providing them with access to new market opportunities without the barriers of language or geography,” explains Hearty.

Facilitating innovation through collaboration

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(L-R): Colin McCabrey, Director of Trade; Alison Currie, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Margaret Hearty, Chief Executive Officer; Martin Robinson, Director of Strategy; Martin Agnew, Director of Corporate Services.

“Our innovation and entrepreneurship programmes have been developed to allow businesses to tap into a network of best-in-class collaborative partners and business advisors across the island of Ireland.” fintech. “We will proactively help businesses to take advantage of the opportunity to collaborate for growth,” says Hearty. Hearty explains that InterTradeIreland’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship team and suite of programmes, headed up by Director, Alison Currie, will be central to helping businesses drive innovative thinking and actions to exploit market opportunities. “Our innovation and entrepreneurship programmes have been developed to allow businesses to tap


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into a network of best-in-class collaborative partners and business advisors across the island of Ireland. “Building innovation capabilities in businesses is one of our key pillars and we do this in a myriad of different ways, including our Innovation Boost programme which supports product development and innovation by linking academics and SMEs across the island.” Highlighting the value of clustering businesses to support innovation and growth, such as has been achieved

through the now 91-company Fintech Corridor, alongside academic institutions and development agencies, Hearty says: “The cross-border market provides enormous potential for trade and innovation, including the ability to forge new collaborations with like-minded partners and to establish new, profitable trading relationships with new suppliers.” The body actively engages with partners and stakeholders to ensure that crossborder clustering initiatives mirrors best practices found in the Nordic region. Hearty explains that such partnerships and stakeholder engagement is fundamental to the future direction of the organisation.

Future direction of InterTradeIreland Turning to the future and the underpinning ambition to increase the number of exporting companies in both jurisdictions, Hearty states: “InterTradeIreland will remain proactive and responsive to the growing needs of

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businesses, as they begin to tackle the impact of rising costs and labour challenges and continue to address carbon reduction targets through their own operations. We will continue to support economic recovery and deliver the right solutions and advice to allow SMEs to benefit from the opportunities provided by cross-border trade, innovation and collaboration. “A significant focus of our next corporate plan will be looking at how we can further empower businesses to take advantage of these opportunities and to overcome any perceived barriers of trading across the island of Ireland.” Currently in the last year of its corporate plan, Hearty says that the realignment, incorporating a new dedicated Trade team, led by Colin McCabrey, a new Innovation and Entrepreneurship team led by Alison Currie and the expansion of the Strategy team now under Martin Robinson’s leadership, alongside the organisation’s Corporate Services team headed up by Martin Agnew, will form a critical part of its forthcoming strategy for 2023-2025. Additionally, InterTradeIreland’s in-house Research team and strong industry-led board will continue to provide evidence on market trends and opportunities to inform businesses and policy makers and in turn the direction of the organisation. InterTradeIreland’s Chief Executive explains that the future strategy will be business-led and business-focused: “At InterTradeIreland, we understand that a rapidly changing economic landscape needs fresh thinking, collaborative approaches and innovative solutions, fuelled by best in-class market intelligence.” Through its longstanding All-Island Business Monitor, as well as its network of research, collaboration, stakeholder engagement and case studies, InterTradeIreland remains on the pulse of businesses and positions itself to provide valuable intelligence on all-island

opportunities, regulation and market trends to both policy makers and businesses. Concluding, Hearty explains: “We pride ourselves on being a flexible organisation that acts on business needs. We have demonstrated this by rapidly responding to the challenges that arose during Brexit and Covid-19 and more recently, we

introduced a new support – the Business Solutions Voucher – to help businesses manage the current pressures of supply chain shortages, rising inflation and other costs. I believe that the changes we have made internally position the organisation to continue acting in a timely manner to the ever-changing challenges and opportunities ahead.”


Margaret Hearty Appointed CEO of InterTradeIreland in April 2021, Margaret Hearty, a business and marketing graduate and holder of an MBA, has worked in the organisation since its inception. In which time, she has played a number of key roles and has, for over two decades worked with entrepreneurs, small and medium sized enterprises and start-ups. Margaret is passionate about helping businesses to grow and develop; through her extensive experience in designing innovative supports and solutions, she continues to lead an expert team who support thousands of businesses across the island to trade, innovate and collaborate.

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Greenhouse gas reductions in Northern Ireland less than half the UK average Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced at a much slower rate than other regions over the UK in the past two decades. Statistics from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs show that, between 1990 and 2020, Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 23.9 per cent, compared to an overall UK reduction of 49.9 per cent. In the same time period, Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 51 per cent, and Wales’ greenhouse gas emissions went down by 40 per cent. Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions accounted for 5.2 per cent of the overall UK numbers, despite only accounting for 2.8 per cent of the population. The Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland), passed by the Assembly in February 2022, commits Northern Ireland to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. By sector, agriculture had the largest emissions, accounting for 26.6 per cent of emissions. Transport contributed 16.2 16

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per cent to overall emissions, whilst the residential, energy supply and business sectors contributed 13.7 per cent, 13.6 per cent, and 13.4 per cent, respectively. The 2020 figures have the important caveat of the one-off reduction in car and air transport for the duration of the lockdowns during this period of the pandemic, with the reduction in road traffic having accounted for 84.9 per cent of the reduction in transport emissions. Aviation accounted for 11.6 per cent of the decrease. It is likely that 2021 figures will show these sectors will have contributed significantly more greenhouse gas emissions than occurred in 2020.

Agriculture and the Climate Change Act Agriculture contributed a far greater proportion of greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland compared with the

other regions of the UK. The corresponding figures for England, Wales, and Scotland stood at 9.0 per cent, 15.6 per cent, and 18.4 per cent, respectively. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs stated that, in 2021, there was an annual increase in the number of cattle to the tune of 4.4 per cent compared with the 2020 figures, with additional increases in the numbers of sheep and pigs. In addition, total greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector have increased by 5.8 per cent since 1990. Northern Ireland has the lowest proportion of farmland under organic management in the UK. The area of land farmed organically in Northern Ireland has remained at 8,000 hectares between 2016 and 2021. The UK overall recorded an increase of 4 per cent, from 489,000 hectares in 2020 to 507,000 hectares in 2021.

issues agenda Greenhouse gas emissions by sector Northern Ireland 2020 8

3.9 2.8













Land Use Change





4 2.8

2 0.8


2 0.4



1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020





0.7 2020

















1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020


2 0




4 3.4


2 1990








3.7 4

Waste Management









1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 8


1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020





Industrial Process

1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020

1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020

1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 8

Energy Supply 5.3















Source: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

The Climate Change Act commits Northern Ireland to achieving a 46 per cent reduction in methane emissions by 2050, a target which has been met with criticism, with an earlier bill proposed by former Green Party MLA Clare Bailey having targeted net zero of methane emissions. Methane currently accounts for 22.9 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland. Methane emissions in Northern Ireland accounted for 9.3 per cent of the UK’s overall methane emissions. The legislation which was passed, was designed to offset cost concerns of the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA, who claimed that the initial net zero methane emissions target would “cost an additional £1 billion per year”. Poots’s initial proposal outlined a targeted 82 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, before the overall net zero target.

Carbon emissions In terms of CO2 emissions specifically, Northern Ireland had a per capita emission of 11 tonnes. Meanwhile, the UK’s average CO2 emissions per capita were almost half that figure, at 6 tonnes. CO2 accounted for 67.8 per cent of Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, with the Climate Change Act targeting net zero CO2

emissions by 2050, a reduction of 100 per cent from the 1990 figures. Northern Ireland’s net greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were estimated to be 20.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). This net figure is a result of an estimated 22.0 MtCO2e total emissions, offset by 1.1 MtCO2e of emissions removed through sequestration. In order to transition to net zero by 2050, the Climate Change Act requires the

Executive to set transitionary targets in the intervening periods of 2030 and 2040, which must be done within 24 months of the legislation gaining royal assent. Reduction in CO2 emissions requires plans of action to be set out by the various departments, including the Department for Infrastructure, such as transitioning away from petrol and diesel cars, which will be banned in the UK by 2030. With no functioning Executive, these actions have not been set out.

Individual greenhouse gas emissions within sector 2020 Northern Ireland 2020 MtCO2e 6 5

Fluorinated gases (HFCs)

Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

Methane (CH4)

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

4 3 2 1 0

Source: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

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Northern Ireland: Better Connected An effective, efficient, and successful public transport network is vital for the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing of our society. That’s why we are committed to continuing the transformation of public transport in Northern Ireland, with our strategy for the decade ahead focused on the theme of Better. Connected. Chris Conway, Group Chief Executive

Better means we will strive for excellence in everything we do, continually improving the quality and accessibility of our services through innovation and an unwavering focus on our customers. It also means accelerating action to address climate change, helping to ensure a cleaner environment. If more people use public transport and active travel modes, we can reduce congestion and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Connected is what we want for our people and communities. This means leading the development of an integrated transport network, linking services and transport modes. Connected also allows the enabling of wider policy objectives of the Northern Ireland Executive, connecting people with work, education, health, retail, leisure, and social opportunities.

Climate action Climate change remains the biggest long-term threat to us all, with air pollution a major risk to personal health.

The transport sector has an important role to play in achieving net zero targets locally and globally, helping to deliver better air quality, reduced congestion and improved public health outcomes. This will require a major policy shift by governments to encourage more people to choose public transport and active travel modes. Effective, sustainable public transport is vital to combatting the climate crisis and driving the change towards a healthier and better quality of life. As our society deals with a cost-of-living crisis, sustainable public transport will also be an important contributor to addressing the challenges and difficulties faced by many. Translink is committed to helping Northern Ireland deliver on its climate commitments by ensuring that our whole network is net zero by 2040, and climate positive by 2050. We are delighted to have been ranked as platinum status in the Business in the Community Northern Ireland Environmental Benchmarking survey, and we will continue to

benchmark Translink with the top-rated organisations in carbon emission reductions. We will also work to assess, plan, design, build, and upgrade our infrastructure to ensure we can operate in a way that anticipates, prepares for, and adapts to changing climate conditions.

Customer focus The attractiveness of our services at every level is a key factor, and in keeping with our net zero ambitions, we are in the process of delivering 100+ locally built zero-emission buses for use on Metro routes in Belfast and selected routes elsewhere; already, we operate the UK and Ireland’s fourth-largest zeroemission bus fleet, and this investment means that over one third of Metro vehicles in Belfast now operate on zeroemission technology, a figure projected to reach 100 per cent before 2030. We also plan to introduce 38 locally built zero-emission vehicles on the Foyle Metro network in Derry~Londonderry during 2023, making it the first city in the

UK and Ireland to operate a 100 per cent zero-emission urban bus fleet. We will work with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and stakeholders at every level to promote and extend bus priority schemes in urban areas and along arterial routes, and to deliver Glider phase two, connecting north and south Belfast via the city centre, as an addition to the success of the existing east-west and Titanic Quarter routes. We are also progressing a five-year project, funded by DfI, to upgrade and enhance our railway infrastructure across Northern Ireland, to ensure it is fit for future generations, and have this summer delivered all 21 of our new Class 4,000 intermediate train carriages, providing an additional 1,600 seats across the network every day. We are also working on plans towards a net zero NI Railways network and to deliver enhancements to the flagship Enterprise service, moving towards an hourly frequency and delivering new rolling stock, in partnership with Irish Rail. Belfast Grand Central Station is a Northern Ireland Executive flagship project, the biggest integrated transport infrastructure project on the island of Ireland and one of the largest investments in Northern Ireland, which is on schedule to enter operational service in 2025. This major project will greatly enhance bus and rail capacity across Northern Ireland and act as a catalyst for regeneration in the Weavers Cross area of Belfast city centre. Ticketing and its ease and efficiency are key assets as we seek to build public transport, and the Translink Future Ticketing System, already live on Metro services, will shortly see contactless and account-based ticketing options rolled out across Ulsterbus, Foyle Metro and NI Railways services, providing greater choice and flexibility for customers.

public transport is good for the environment, the economy, and our urban areas.

Connecting communities

Since Covid-19, passenger numbers have been growing back strongly and we have ambitious plans to grow beyond 100 million passenger journeys per year and help to decarbonise our environment and decongest our town and city centres, bearing in mind changing demands, demographics, and new travel habits.

In 2018/19, we delivered a record total of 84.5 million passenger journeys, the highest figure in 20 years, this removed over 70 million car journeys from our roads and took over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. This growth was driven by investment in improved services and facilities, enhanced fleet and infrastructure and strong ambitions for the future, as well as encouraging people that travelling by

We will work with the DfI and the Northern Ireland Executive, along with a range of key stakeholders, to deliver the full potential of our current public transport network and define future expansion and upgrade plans. We will continue to deliver a high level of network coverage, with more than 80 per cent of people in Northern Ireland having access to a public transport connection. We will also continue to look for

opportunities to integrate active and sustainable travel and deliver maximum accessibility for urban and rural communities in every part of Northern Ireland.

Conclusions Translink has achieved much in the last few years, but there is still some way to go. We will continue to work to deliver the net zero future that everyone deserves, driving a modal shift in transport habits and helping to deliver a better, healthier, greener, more sustainable legacy for future generations. Find out more at:


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More social houses needed to combat homelessness

Whilst homelessness has declined slightly in the last 12 months, there are 44,286 people on housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland, but only 382 social housing builds were completed in the first quarter of 2022. The deaths of two young homeless women in Belfast in July brought the total of homeless deaths in the city alone to 15 in the year 2022. Figures show that there are 31,407 households, 71 per cent of the total on housing waiting lists, that are currently in ‘housing stress,’ meaning that they have over 30 points in the Housing Executive’s housing allocation scheme. The points scheme is the means by which the Housing Executive determines who gets priority. If an applicant passes the four tests of proof of homelessness, the Housing Executive allocates 70 points to the applicant. These four tests are: the homelessness test; eligible for assistance test; priority need test; and the intentionality test. If an applicant fails these four tests, they can still be awarded up to 50 points if they meet criteria such as, among others, ‘breakdown of a relationship’, ‘released from prison’ or ‘leaving institutional care’. In total, 4,033 households throughout Northern Ireland presented as homeless to the Housing Executive between January to March 2022 a decrease of 6.3 per cent over the last 12 months. The household types with the highest proportion of homeless presenters between January to March 2022 were single men, at 33 per cent, and families, who make up 31.3 per cent. 20

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The Housing Bulletin Report states that the age group with the highest number of presenters for both single men (1,032) and single women (397) was the 26 to 59 age group. The Housing Executive has announced a new strategy aimed at combatting homelessness between 2022 and 2027. The objectives of this latest strategy are to: prioritise homelessness prevention; address homelessness by providing settled, appropriate accommodation and support; and support customers to transition from homelessness into settled accommodation.

Defining homelessness Northern Ireland’s leading homeless charity, the Simon Community, published a study entitled ‘Hidden’ Homelessness in Northern Ireland, in which they state that people who fall into the HE’s category of ‘may be homeless’ should be provided with “housing advice; advice on social issues; financial advice; and advice on legal procedures and services”.

Credit: Geoffrey Rockwell

Their report asserts that ‘hidden’ homeless people, which includes “households living in severely overcrowded conditions, squatters, people ‘sofa-surfing’ around friends’ or relatives’ houses, those involuntarily sharing with other households on a long-term basis, and people sleeping rough in hidden locations,” under-inflates the number of homeless people. They estimate that, if ‘hidden’ homeless people were to be taken into account, that the number of homeless people in Northern Ireland would increase by between 70,000 and 112,000, only exacerbating the homelessness problem.

Rising house prices and supply decline Research carried out by Halifax shows that, in the last five years, the average house price has increased in Northern Ireland by 48 per cent, the highest increase in the UK. In the same timeframe, demand for home ownership has increased by 21 per cent. Halifax also found that, despite a 25 per cent reduction in home ownership demand in the last 12 months, house prices had increased by 12 per cent. Somewhat surprisingly, according to the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (NISRA), Belfast, the area with the largest amount of people on housing waiting lists, has the fourth lowest average house price out of the 11 council areas in Northern Ireland. Although the market is demanding further building and investment, the number of new houses built has declined by 11.9 per cent in the last 12 months, according to the Housing Bulletin Report. There were 382 social housing builds which were completed in the first quarter of 2022, less than 1 per cent of the demand for social housing, given that more than 44,286 people are currently on social housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland. The report further outlines that the number of new development completions declined by over 18 per cent in 2022, which may be due to concerns around inflation and supply chains of building materials distributed by the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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Credit Simon Graham. Amnesty International.

No abortion services plan despite Westminster intervention

Campaigners mark the end of Northern Ireland’s 158-year abortion law at Stormont.

The Department of Health has persistently missed targets to implement full abortion services in Northern Ireland since July 2019, when MPs in Westminster voted to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK by decriminalising abortion and extending rights to Northern Ireland. Instead, individual health trusts have offered services on an ad-hoc basis, without any central commissioning, often meaning a post-code lottery for those in need of service provision. Health Minister Robin Swann MLA has previously cited the “significance and sensitivity of the issue” for the need for Executive approval, despite numerous interventions from MLAs demanding that the Department unilaterally commission services. In May 2022, then Secretary of State Brandon Lewis MP laid regulations to remove the need to seek Executive Committee approval in relation to commissioning abortion services in Northern Ireland, citing inaction from the Department and the Executive to guarantee the relevant healthcare services. Lewis had originally set a 31 March 2022 deadline for a fully-funded abortion service to be set up, but told a Westminster Committee he did not expect “the Department of Health or


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Health Minister to take forward the commissioning of abortion service”. Citing the current absence of provision high-quality abortion and post-abortion care for women and girls in Northern Ireland, Lewis not only removed the need for Executive Committee approval before services can be commissioned and funded by the Department of Health, but also gave the Secretary of State additional powers to “do anything that a Northern Ireland Minister or department could do for the purpose of ensuring that the recommendations in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the CEDAW report are implemented”. The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 were approved by both Houses of Parliament at the end of April 2021. The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022 were subsequently laid on 19 May 2022. The Department of Health has failed to respond to several requests asking what work it has undertaken to commission abortion services since the legislative changes, since mid-July. It has also failed to clarify whether it was the Minister of Health’s intention to provide the “clear and unambiguous” commitment which the then Secretary of State stated he would be seeking. Critics have pointed out that two years on from Westminster’s intervention, and

despite numerous threats of action, the UK Government has yet to instil change to service provision in Northern Ireland, highlighting that the then Secretary of State’s threat to “intervene further”, if the Department does not commission and fund abortion services, as directed, lacks impetus. There is evidence that ad hoc services set up by the various health trusts are falling well short of demand. The Department of Health’s own figures show that in 2019/2020 just 22 terminations of pregnancies took place in Northern Ireland, compared to 984 NHS-funded terminations of pregnancy carried out on Northern Ireland residents in England and Wales in 2019. These figures do not include privately funded treatments. Speaking during his short-term stint as Secretary of State, Shailesh Vara MP, indicated his intention to follow the course set out by Lewis. “The Secretary of State believes it is unacceptable women and girls in Northern Ireland cannot access the same level of abortion healthcare as the rest of the UK,” a UK Government spokesperson said. “The Department of Health should drive forward the commissioning of abortion services without further delay. If it does not commission and fund abortion services as directed, the Government will intervene.”

Food Standards Agency: A changing food system make us ill, is authentic and properly described, and is being made healthier and more sustainable for the future. The FSA holds a range of statutory powers, and we carry out different roles in the food system including being a regulator, an evidence generator, a policymaker and a watchdog. Our work within the food system protects public health, reduces the economic burden from foodborne disease and supports trade by ensuring Northern Ireland’s strong reputation for safety and authenticity at home and abroad. New technologies, modernised business models and changing consumer behaviours, mean that the FSA needs to think differently about how we deliver our mission.

FSA NI Director Maria Jennings is pictured with Minister Edwin Poots MLA and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Naresh Chada, at FSA’s launch and briefing event to discuss the findings of ‘Our Food’, evidence-led review of the UK food system with key stakeholders.

The FSA’s Northern Ireland Director, Maria Jennings outlines the ongoing work across the food system following its recently published Strategy 2022-2027 and launch of the inaugural Our Food: An annual review of food standards across the UK. Food matters, it is integral to who we are and how we live. Food-related inequalities impact on our health and wellbeing, and the FSA’s job is to safeguard public health, and protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. We work closely with colleagues in government, but we act independently and transparently, led by science and evidence. The last two years have been a tough period for the food system which is still recovering from the significant effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the disruption caused by

the war in Ukraine as well as adapting to life in a post EU exit landscape. The effects of these shocks will continue to have an impact on our food system for many years to come. Encouragingly for UK consumers and our international trading partners, ‘Our Food’ report provides reassurance that the high food standards we enjoy in the UK have been upheld. ‘Food you can trust’ is an outcome we want for everyone. We all have the right to expect that the food we eat will not

Our food system is global in nature and an important part of our work is collaborating on food policy across the UK and internationally to ensure that organisations are working together to improve food safety outcomes. The FSA’s evidence can help inform thinking across government and shape the development of policies. We continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive as it shapes a future food strategy for Northern Ireland, reducing inequalities in the health and wellbeing of citizens. Maintaining our strong working relationships across government, industry, and academia has never been more important to us as we face into a rapidly changing food system.

T: 0330 332 7149 E: W:

A blueprint for a better workplace Breedon Group Plc is a leading construction materials group operating in over 350 locations across Ireland and Great Britain. The company produces essential materials that make a fundamental difference to the lives of people everywhere, every day. Breedon has ambitious plans to become even bigger and more successful in the future. An integral part of these plans is the people it employs as the company endeavours to develop its own staff from within whilst also attracting talented people into the

organisation to help a build sustainable future. Recently in Ireland, Breedon has embarked on an employer brand campaign called ‘Inside Breedon’ to promote itself as a ‘preferred employer’ within the construction industry. As part of that campaign, we travelled to some of the many locations around the country to get a glimpse into what working for one of the leading construction material groups in Ireland and Great Britain, really means.

Breedon build a sense of self-belief into the staff. At a young age to when I first came to work here, I never imagined that one day I’d be the factory manager.

Barry O’Reilly, Factory Manager, Kingscourt Brick, Co. Cavan

England to do a level 5 CLAIT, both which helped me to where I am today.’

We spoke to Barry at Kingscourt Brick about what makes for a fulfilling and rewarding workplace.

‘We’re a very close team, and thanks to the low turnover of staff, the bond between everyone who works here means, when we need to, we can get serious in times when the pressure builds. Good communication also means that this pressure to perform never becomes a negative influence, and in a job where productivity is paramount, that sort of thing is vital.’

‘For me, Breedon build a sense of self-belief into the staff. I’ve been around bricks all my life, but from a young age to when I first came to work here, I never imagined that one day I’d be the manager. Breedon were brilliant when it came to encouraging me to move up and challenge myself. They sent me on a leadership and management course and over to

‘We make about 50-60 thousand bricks a day, around 12 million a year,

and what is rewarding for me is that I know Breedon are rebuilding all of Ireland. It’s good to know I work for an employer that’s always thinking about their impact. We recently went from a 10-hole brick to a 3-hole which means quicker production and drying times, lessening our carbon impact and keeping what we do as sustainable as possible.’ ‘When it becomes a part of your life, like it is for me, you have to know the company are looking out for you, and Breedon certainly are with the benefits, pension and share scheme to name a few of the ways that happens.’

Throughout Ireland, the trusted names of Lagan Asphalt, Lagan Materials and Whitemountain Quarries will now be operating as Breedon Ireland. Three of the biggest names in the industry now making a material difference as one. Stronger together.

Discover more at

issues agenda

Truss faces some jarring collisions between ambition and reality The Financial Times’ Philip Stephens writing for agendaNI assesses whether new Prime Minister Liz Truss MP can marry conviction to political pragmatism when confronting the awkward compromises between the pledges she made and the reality of delivery. Now for the real world. All new prime ministers struggle to reconcile promises made on the campaign trail with the hard truths of power. None will have found the constraints tougher than Liz Truss MP. The UK, in the apt description of her leadership opponent Rishi Sunak MP, faces a national emergency. For all the upbeat tone of her speech on the steps of Downing Street, Truss is already confronting the awkward compromises between pledges and reality. Only weeks ago she dismissed the idea of more “handouts” to soften the impact of soaring energy prices on the cost of living crisis. Her promised cut in National Insurance contributions would do the trick. Now she is committing a sum not far short of £100 billion to a support package to avert economic and social chaos. The “small state” Prime Minister is presiding over a vastly expensive programme of intervention to cap prices in the wholesale gas market. The energy crisis caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine, a stalling UK economy, runaway inflation and a funding crisis in the National Health Service are only the beginning of the new Prime Minister’s problems. A wave of public sector strikes challenges Truss’s authority. Truss’s plan for tax cuts sits alongside a clamour for more money from Whitehall spending departments. Brussels is promising a tough response to repudiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.


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The first imperative was always to shield families and small businesses from the worst of the energy price crunch. Consumers were threatened with another 80 per cent increase in average bills to £3,549 from 1 October. This over and above the inflationary surge in prices for food and other essentials. Businesses – from manufacturing companies to pubs and shops and care homes – faced much steeper rises. Truss was persuaded that for all her ideological aversion to intervention, if she failed to get a grip on the crisis early on her premiership would not recover. There was no silver bullet. And none of the options came cheaply. An across-the-board freeze on gas and electricity prices was the most expensive. It also looked unavoidable. For all that, the risks are also obvious. Truss has been told that high inflation, rising interest rates and slowing growth have wiped out any fiscal room for manoeuvre. She has made tax cuts her first economic priority. All this will have to be paid for through borrowing. This at a time when financial markets have been losing confidence in the UK’s management of its finances. Sterling is trading close to levels as low as any seen for more than 30 years. The Prime Minister cannot afford a strike among international investors and a further run on the pound. Whitehall officials forever urge prime ministers to avoid prioritising the urgent over the important. In Truss’s case,

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however, the two have merged. She faces a winter funding crisis in the NHS and social care, a rolling wave of public sector strikes, and a fight with the European Union about the Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland. All are both urgent and important. So too is the need for western unity in support of Ukraine’s fight itself against Russian aggression. The Treasury thinks the economy is heading into a protracted recession. Earlier expectations of a short, sharp downturn followed by a bounceback next spring have made way for forecasts that the economy will shrink through next year. Inflation, by some estimates, could reach 20 per cent. The impact on living standards will be devastating. The Resolution Foundation think tank estimates that, without massive government intervention, the average family faces an unprecedented 10 per cent cut in disposable income during the two years to the end of 2023. For their part, NHS chiefs are warning that the health service will not get through the winter without money to deal with a hospital logjam that has seen ambulances queuing for hours outside accident and emergency units. Public sector workers – barristers and nurses as much as rail and postal workers – want wage increases to match rising prices.

Philip Stephens, Contributing Editor, FT

These demands fall on a Prime Minister promising to reduce the size of the state, starting next year with big cuts in corporation tax. Whitehall officials whisper privately about the need for “adjustments” to her prospectus. Political opponents will be watching for U-turns. The Brexiter right of the Conservative party will be alert to any retreat from her pledges.

The “small state” Prime Minister is presiding over a vastly expensive programme of intervention to cap prices in the wholesale gas market. Protocol The Northern Ireland protocol presents another first test of where the balance will fall between political conviction – Truss voted remain in 2016 but has since declared herself a hard-line Brexiter – and necessary pragmatism. The UK faces a 15 September deadline to respond to a European Commission legal action which spells the end of the so-called ‘grace periods’ for phasing in border checks in the Irish sea. As the author of the legislation that would see the UK unilaterally withdraw from parts of the Protocol, Truss’s rhetoric has been robust. “There's only one thing that the EU understands and that is strength,” Truss declared during the leadership campaign. “I'm strong enough to make it happen.” Aides have emphasised that she wants to give the Democratic Unionist Party the confidence to remove its veto on the restoration of Stormont government. Some have suggested that she might opt for the “nuclear” option of invoking Article 16. Officials are urging caution. The signals from Berlin and Paris as well as from the Commission in Brussels have been unequivocal. The EU will not bow to ultimatums. The UK’s allies would see unilateral revocation as a breach of international law. This is not the moment to threaten western unity – and prospects of a good relationship with the Biden administration in Washington. Nor, with the economy heading into recession, to risk a trade war with Europe. The first signs are that Truss and her Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris MP want to avoid an early confrontation. Another circle to be squared. Truss’s allies say that she is underestimated. She is sharper and tougher than generally realised. Voters will warm to her when they see her resolve. Perhaps, but even within her own party support for the new Prime Minister is conditional. The UK, she declared in Downing Street, will “ride out the storm”. That assumes she can marry conviction to political pragmatism.

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Reaching rural

Reaching rural: The Housing Executive’s latest rural housing strategy reflects the growing demand for the development of rural homes.

Siobhan McCauley, Director of Regional Services, outlines the Housing Executive’s role in providing housing and housing services in rural areas. The Housing Executive is more than just Northern Ireland’s largest social housing landlord. As the strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland, we undertake a range of statutory duties, to ensure that housing services are provided for people living in both urban and rural areas. Last year we launched our sixth rural strategy, ‘Reaching Rural’. The strategy reflects the growing demand, and changing policy context for the development of new rural homes. We understand that there are additional challenges faced by rural residents, most notably for those living in more remote areas. Everyday life in a rural area presents unique hurdles that those in urban areas take for granted – having to travel to access key services, a reduced public transport system, overreliance on private cars, slower broadband speeds and unreliable mobile network signals. ‘Reaching Rural’ focuses on the need to consider the housing requirements of an ageing population, the growing recognition of the requirement for carbon neutral, energy efficient, rural homes, and the access to basic services and support. It recognises that these factors present both challenges and opportunities. We want to address these through local engagement,

investment, and collaborative working. We are already working with our Community Planning partners to find sustainable opportunities within rural settlements. It is important to note that 15 per cent of all social housing waiting list applicants require a home in a rural location. The number of households on the waiting list for a rural home has increased over the past five years to 6,630 and the number of those in housing stress has also continued to rise year-onyear to 4,243. This highlights the gap between supply and demand and the difficulty many applicants face in securing a social home. The rise in housing stress in rural areas is often exacerbated by the fact that there are increasing difficulties in achieving social new build schemes in rural areas. During the period of our last Rural Strategy (2016 to 2021), 671 new social housing homes commenced in rural areas through the Social Housing Development Programme. This is not simply a case of providing people a place to call home that is affordable and meets their needs, but this investment will has a ripple effect in rural communities, supporting schools, services and local businesses. While this is a positive step for our rural communities

Pictured at Bovagh Bridge, Aghadowey are Matthew McKay (HE rural and regeneration unit) with Hilary Canning (HE Limavady office manager).

and for those households who have been waiting for new homes, it is far short of what we want to see delivered. Between 2016 and 2021, our strategic target was under by 355. Similarly, during 2021/22 only 7.5 per cent of all starts were in a rural location, against a target of 12.3 per cent. Our annual programme of Rural Housing Need Tests is a strategic priority. Tests are a focused consultation with an individual community to encourage anyone in need of a home to come forward and have an initial discussion with a housing advisor about their housing circumstances, and the housing options available within their area of choice. If we determine there is a need for more housing in the area, we will consider support for a housing association proposal, or highlight the area in the Annual Commissioning Prospectus. Since testing first began in 2000, we have carried out over 200 tests, which has resulted in over 400 new homes for rural residents to stay and to thrive in rural communities. We continue to work with housing association partners, to identify the main issues contributing to this shortfall. The increased difficulty in accessing land which is suitable and available for housing development; the impact of the cost of required infrastructure, and in particular the ongoing capacity issues will have on the feasibility of small schemes, are some of the issues that we collectively face. There is often limited land remaining within development limits. In addition to this, existing land prices are competitive in many rural settlements where we have the greatest housing need. We recognise that more needs to be done to ensure the delivery of the rural homes required. A key theme of our strategy is ‘enabling the provision of affordable rural homes’ – we have set out a range of actions aimed at facilitating this provision. Our rolling programme of Site Identification Studies assist

housing associations by identifying available land in rural areas of unmet housing need. This approach helps to promote the inclusion of rural schemes on the Social Housing Development Programme. It further develops our understanding of local land, infrastructure, and planning-related issues that informs our continued consultation with local councils regarding the development of Local Development Plans. The waiting list figures illustrated provide evidence of the growing need for an increase in the supply of social housing in many rural settlements across Northern Ireland. As far back as our first rural housing policy in 1991, the Housing Executive recognised that there are rural settlements where there are fewer, if any, social properties. Limited awareness of social housing as an option and a low turnover of existing stock means that fewer numbers of people in need of social and affordable housing are identified. This perpetuates the issue of a lack of housing supply in areas where social homes are most needed. We are fortunate to work with many amazing community groups and volunteers who are the backbone of our communities. This invaluable contribution from people living in rural communities, including those on our Rural Residents Forum, is essential to build sustainable rural communities. Find more about our rural work on:

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Cross-border cooperation necessary to combat climate change

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are both transitioning towards green economies, and with respective goals of reaching net zero by 2050, cooperation on energy policy will be crucial going forward. The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) released its comprehensive Shared Island Shared Opportunity report, which has recommended a close level of cooperation between the two administrations on the island on a number of key policy areas. The report, which was commissioned by the Department of the Taoiseach, whilst not commenting on the constitutional settlement of Northern Ireland, emphasises the importance of cooperation between the two states for their mutual benefit across various policy areas, notably climate change and economic development.


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Chaired by Martin Fraser, former SecretaryGeneral of the Department of the Taoiseach, the report is a collaborative effort between various sectors in Ireland including agriculture, environmentalists, community groups, trade unionists, public servants, and business representatives.

Overarching conclusions First, “there is very significant support, in practice, for an all-island approach to key economic, social, environmental, and wellbeing challenges. A solid foundation for the Shared Island Initiative exists. This foundation is made up of working

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connections and relationships operating and evolving at various levels, from formal institutions to community-level networks,” the report states. Second, the report outlines that combatting climate change will require “clear and urgent” cross-border cooperation. “The council believes that this area is now ripe for further ambition, collaboration and action. Given the urgency and scope to protect and enhance the island’s environment, and to maximise the available opportunities.” Third, the agendas of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are becoming increasingly aligned with one another, thus requiring a closer level of cooperation between the two states. “The council argues that, in the period ahead, the main political actors – the Irish and UK, governments and the Northern Ireland Executive – should seek and prepare for an opportunity to reset the context and agenda for north-south and east-west cooperation.”

Conclusions by policy area The report reached conclusions on five key areas. These were: the economy; social policy; climate and biodiversity; wellbeing measures and; data coordination.

“The council argues that, in the period ahead, the main political actors – the Irish and UK, governments and the Northern Ireland Executive – should seek and prepare for an opportunity to reset the context and agenda for north-south and east-west cooperation.” electricity, with additional goals for joint approaches for offshore wind, solar, wave, and tidal energy. In addition, the report has advocated for “a more structured basis for consultation, cooperation, and action by the two administrations on enterprise policy, and other economic development issues,” such as tourism and trans-border workers’ tax relief. This would require the dual consent of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland.

Climate and biodiversity are areas with the widest potential scope for cooperation between the two states, given that both states have wide circularity gaps in their respective economies (98 per cent in the Republic of Ireland and 92 per cent in Northern Ireland), with reforms to agriculture required in order to increase the circularity of their economies. The report recommends achieving this by further developing initiatives such as Farming for Nature. It also advocates cross-border ‘networks for nature’, which aim to build on the progress of the AllIreland Pollinator Plan.

On social policy, the recommendations included providing specialist services on an all-island basis, with the goal of reducing costs, increasing accessibility and increasing standards. It also advocates for increasing the viability of cross-border social enterprises as well as a cross-border basis for reducing poverty.

On the economy, the report has recommended increased infrastructure investment on an all-island basis, particularly in the border regions. There is also a necessity for cooperation on the two states’ energy policies, with EirGrid and SONI hoping to become 70 per cent reliant on renewable energy to supply

Developing wellbeing measures in an efficient and cost-effective manner will require further cross-border cooperation. The report has called for the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (NISRA) to cooperate in the development and application of wellbeing measures, to

“The role of the annual summer school collaboration, between the Department of Social Protection (DSP) in Ireland and the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, could be explored as a means of initiating this dialogue,” the report states.

ensure that wellbeing in the two states is measured beyond narrow economic measures, and take a wider focus on other areas of wellbeing such as health, happiness, and education standards. Shared Island Shared Opportunity emphasises the potential to use wellbeing frameworks as a tool to facilitate engagement with a wide range of stakeholders across the island, inform priorities in relation to key challenges, and to learn from each other. Ensuring that there is a north-south and east-west element built into groups will be crucial to advancing wellbeing.

Going forward The report states that funding crossborder economic projects, particularly in infrastructure and energy, is the most effective way to enhance all-island cooperation. It states that ‘substantial funding’ is now available to take forward infrastructure programmes. “Time will now be devoted to ensuring that this report – and its ambition to help identify scope to improve all-island ways of working, and areas where such cooperation seems likely to bear useful fruit – is widely shared,” the report states. However, realising these goals will require the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland.

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NIGALA: Celebrating 25 Years First NIGALA Board:

1996 Agency inception 4th November. 1997 Official Opening 20th July. 1998 First Conference entitled 'Care & Contact Planning'. 1999 Official Opening of North West office in L/Derry on 5th March. and (Seated) Her Honour Judge Philpott QC (Chair) Mr Ronnie Williamson (Executive Director) (Standing) Mr Jack Corr and Dr Colette McAuley

New Chair - Ms Mary Connolly

2000 Discussions to establish an information network with the Family Courts.

2001 Conference entitled 'Exploring Significant Harm' and Official Opening of the office in Armagh in November. 2002 Conference entitled 'Children (NI) Order 1995 – Fit for Purpose?' 2003 New Chair - Mr Jim Currie MBE 2004 DHSSPS Inspection of the Agency 2005 Revised Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings 'Exploring Significant Harm'

2006 Multidisciplinary seminar entitled 'Children’s Participation in the Court Process' and

Awarded Investors in People Award (IiP)

2007 COAC’s Best Practice Guidance training 2008 Introduction of the Guardian Case Information System (GCIS) 2009 Awarded the Bronze Investors In People (IiP) Award 2010 Awarded second place in the ‘Transformation of Services’ category in the Presentation of Bronze Investors In People (IiP) Award


National Government Computing Awards

2011 New Chair - Mr Bernard Mitchell 2012 Conference entitled 'Children in Family Proceedings – Who’s Listening?' 2013 Re-Accreditation of Investors in People (IiP) Bronze Award and

New Chief Executive - Ms Patricia Nicholl

2014 Stakeholder events entitled 'Care Proceedings in NI – A Snapshot Study' and and

'Tackling Delay and Working Together'

2015 New Acting Chief Executive - Mr Peter Reynolds 'Children in Family Proceedings - Who's Listening?'

2016 Establishment of the Young Persons Forum and

NIGALA Celebrated its 20th Anniversary


New Chief Executive - Mr Peter Reynolds


2017 Memorial coffee morning for Mr Jim Currie & Her Honour Judge Philpott QC and

The Inter-Agency Childcare & Legal Issues Group 'seminar entitled 'Post Adoption Contact Managing Perspectives'

Conference entitled '21 Years of Representing Children and Young People –


What Have We Learned and What Can We Do Better?'


Establishment of the Inter Agency Childcare and Legal Issues Group

2018 Awarded the Investors in People IiP Silver Award 2019 NIGALA hosted a Five Nations Gathering with Children First (Scotland), and

Mrs Gemma Loughran Chair

CAFCASS Cymru (Wales), Barnardo’s DCYA (South of Ireland), CAFCASS England.

2020 Conference entitled ‘Are We Listening?' and

New Chair - Mrs Gemma Loughran

2021 New Chief Executive - Ms Dawn Shaw OBE and Ms Dawn Shaw OBE Chief Executive

Awarded the Co-Production Award for participation work with young people


at the Regional Social Work Awards. Mr Peter Reynolds (past Chief Executive)


was also awarded the LifeTime Achievement Award.

2022 Change of premises from Centre House Belfast to James House Belfast


Over the past 25 years, NIGALA has provided representation in 16,000 Cases

Request by case numbers / children 10,000 7,500 5,000

Involving over

2,500 0 1996-2000

23,000 Children

Due to Covid-19, celebrations were postponed but it is very important that we recognise the need to mark, even belatedly, the work of the Agency over the 25 years. The function of NIGALA is to safeguard and promote the interests of children and young people whose welfare is being considered in public law and adoption court proceedings, by providing independent social work advice and by ensuring the effective representation of the views of these children and young people. When a child or young person becomes subject to court proceedings to determine his or her best interests, the guardian must work to assist the court in making a fully informed decision about the future life of that child or young person. The Agency is accountable to the NIGALA Board. During our 25 year history we have had five chairs: Her Honour Judge Philpott (deceased); Mary Connolly; Jim Currie (deceased); Bernard Mitchell; and Gemma Loughran, the current chair, who took up her role in 2020. The first Chief Executive was Ronnie Williamson who led the agency for 17 years. On his retirement Patricia Nicholl was appointed; she was succeeded in 2015 by Peter Reynolds who retired in April 2021, when the current Chief Executive, Dawn Shaw OBE, was appointed. In recent years, family life in our community has been adversely affected by many developments including the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in mental health issues; the economic pressures which are causing escalating increases in the cost of living. There has been a 30 per cent increase in the numbers of children coming into care over the last 10 years and it is unlikely that the challenges to family life will ease in the future. NIGALA will continue to play its part in promoting the best interests of children and young people whose family life is under consideration by the courts and in being an independent voice for these children and young people.

Looking to the future There are a number of significant events which will shape the next 25 years of the Agency. The new Children and Adoption Act (NI) 2022 will make significant changes to the law and to the process of adoption in Northern Ireland and our guardians look forward to preparing to meet the new requirements. The full implementation of the legislation will bring about changes to our names; NIGALA will be known as The Children’s Court Guardian Service Northern Ireland and the Guardians will be known as the Children’s Court Guardian. The Belfast office of NIGALA will be moving to James House in the Gasworks site. This will provide a modern office environment to meet the needs of a forward looking service

2001-2005 cases





embracing the use of technology and hybrid ways of working. Adapting to the future to ensure we provide the best service possible for the children, young people and families with whom we work is a core aim of the Agency. We are conscious that, as part of HSC, we cannot escape the funding restrictions across the public sector and we will seek to ensure that we are delivering the best service possible in the most efficient and effective way. We know that this will require transformation in the way we work and such transformation is a key theme for the Agency as we move forward. We are currently supported by the Leadership Centre in this endeavour which will focus on our most precious asset, our staff. The core work of the Agency is delivered by qualified and experienced social workers supported by a team of administrative and corporate staff, led by a small senior leadership team. The NIGALA Board, which comprises five members from a range of backgrounds including social work, finance, corporate governance and law, provides strategic leadership, oversight of governance and accountability for our work. The Agency is ultimately accountable to the Department of Health and to the Minister of Health. As part of our accountability processes we are required to produce a Corporate Plan and we are currently working on the plan which will set the direction for the Agency over the next five years from 2023 – 2028 and will create the platform for our next 25 years. “It is a great privilege to acknowledge the outstanding work of NIGALA over more than 25 years in supporting thousands of children and young people whose future was under consideration by the court, and to look forward with confidence to NIGALA continuing to seek only the best for vulnerable children and young people in our society,” says Gemma Loughran, NIGALA Chair. Some of the original staff, who started with the Agency in 1996, remain in post today demonstrating their long term commitment to supporting the lives of vulnerable children and young people.

For further information on our work go to

issues agenda

What to expect from

Liz Truss Credit: Conservative Party

Liz Truss MP has become the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after her victory in the Conservative Party’s leadership election. Truss, who was the favourite of the right of her party, has pledged to take a hard-line stance against the EU with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and has stated that, if necessary, she will invoke Article 16 of the Protocol. She served as Foreign Secretary under the premiership of Boris Johnson MP, where, it is claimed, on her first foreign trip to visit her American counterpart, Anthony Blinken, she questioned the ‘special relationship’ which has characterised diplomatic relations between the two nations. She apparently stated that there was “nothing particularly special” about the two nations’ relationships, pointing to Britain’s better trade relations with Japan, Canada, and Mexico, in contrast with the dispute over steel tariffs which has overshadowed US-UK relations. Truss began her political life as a Liberal Democrat, where, in her youth, she famously supported the abolition of the British Monarchy. She has since then embarked on a long journey through the moderate wings of the Conservative Party, and is now seen as one of the most prominent figures of the right of the party, having been endorsed by figures such as Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. Furthermore, Truss, despite her apparent Brexit credentials, supported ‘remain’ in the 2016 referendum, stating at the time: “I believe it is in Britain's economic interest and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform at home.” The Prime Minister’s economic pledges have included committing to cut taxes, cut VAT, and a spending programme of £30 billion which aims to eliminate this year’s rise in national insurance, cancel the upcoming rise in corporation tax in 2023, and temporarily suspend green levies on energy bills. These policies have been criticised as having the potential to exacerbate the ongoing inflation crisis. One of Truss’ tasks will be to prevent the breakup of the United Kingdom. She has stated that she thinks that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP is an “attention seeker” who “should be ignored”, and that she will not allow Scotland to hold a referendum on independence under any circumstances. Likewise, restoring devolution in Northern Ireland will be a key challenge. As a committed unionist, Truss will be conscious of the growing support for Irish unification in recent opinion polls. Truss is the third woman to assume the role of British Prime Minister, and the fourth Conservative leader in six years.


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Economy report




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Protocol provides short-term boost but recession looms Figures depicting growth of the Northern Ireland economy mask the real time effects of rising inflation and a looming recession. In July 2022, results for the first quarter of the year indicated a 15-year high for economic output in Northern Ireland, just short of a record high registered mid-2007. However, it is recognised that figures lag the real time reality that rising inflation rates make a protracted recession imminent. Northern Ireland’s economic growth is set against a backdrop of steep economic decline during the initial Covid lockdown stages of the economy. While current data shows that the economy has bounced back quicker and stronger than expected, outstripping the UK’s recovery rate in some areas, it is important to note that the local economy has still not fully recovered to levels prior to the 2008 financial crash (figure 2). Q2 of 2022 is expected to reflect recovery to pre-2008 levels but a


recession is not expected to be evident in official data until later in the year, given its retrospective nature. In November 2021, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data for the third quarter of 2021 showed that Northern Ireland had outperformed other regions of the UK in its economic recovery, however, output still sat 0.3 per cent below pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2019. Indications of a potential recession existed prior to the Bank of England’s recent announcement that it was raising interest rates in an attempt to head off predicted inflation of potentially 13 per cent by the end of 2022 becoming embedded in the economy. Although limited in their data, consumer and business surveys carried out by banks often provide a more real time

snapshot of shifts in the economy than older official data. In August 2022, Danske Bank’s Consumer Confidence Index highlighted a second successive quarter of consumer confidence decline, highlighted by the fact that the 26 per cent of people who expected their financial position to worsen over the next year in Q4 of 2021, rose to 40 per cent in Q1 of 2022 and over half by Q2 of 2022. At the time of the survey, inflation had hit 9.4 per cent and nearly half of those surveyed said they expected to spend less this year, but this figure is likely to rise as inflation moves towards an expected 13 per cent. For businesses, Ulster Bank’s monthly survey in May 2022, a reliable indicator of the private sector, pointed to a significant fall off in construction and retail activity as an early indication that

Figure 1: NICEI, comparison with selected GDP measures 2006 – 2022 (Q1) 140.0 120.0 100.0 80.0 60.0

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40.0 20.0 0.0 2006

2008 NICEI


2012 UK GDP



Scotland GDP




Ire land GDP

Source: ONS

economic recovery may have peaked. By July, it confirmed that the economy was losing momentum, with falling confidence hitting business performance. Northern Ireland’s economy has for a long time lagged behind the performance of the UK’s economy, as evidenced by a large productivity gap of some 17 per cent below the UK

average, making it consistently the worst economic performer of any UK region. This is telling when it is kept in mind that the UK economy’s own productivity growth has been stagnate since the 2007-08 financial crash. Any level of recession in the UK’s economy, therefore, will almost certainly be reflected in Northern Ireland.

UK economy In August, the Bank of England (BoE) moved to curb inflation, estimated to rise to 13 per cent by the end of 2022, by rising interest rates 0.5 percentage points, the highest rise in 25 years. Levels of recession are predicted to match that of the 1990s and household incomes could fall by their largest

Figure 2: Northern Ireland's economic output has still not returned to pre-financial crash levels NICEI and component indices by year, 2006 – 2021 (2019=100) NICEI 106.0 104.0 102.0 100.0 98.0 96.0 94.0 92.0 90.0 88.0 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 Source: NISRA

The NICEI is an experimental quarterly measure of the performance of the NI economy based on available official statistics.

4 37

Figure 3: Growth in the balanced measure of “real” GVA 2000 to 2017 8.0



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0.0 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017



Northern Ireland

United Kingdom

-6.0 Source: ONS

amount in 60 years. The head of the BoE has said that the squeeze on living standards was inevitable and necessary to bring inflation under control and avoid a harsher economic downturn later. Consumer price inflation, which hit a fresh 40-year high of 9.4 per cent in June, is already the highest among the G7 group of large economies and the

bank forecasts the economy will slide into a 15-month recession later this year, with GDP shrinking by more than 2 per cent from peak to trough.

inflation, the UK’s greater exposure to energy price shock than the US and less protection by government measures than the EU make for a bleaker economic outlook.

The downgrading of the UK economy’s growth predictions is largely related to the rise of wholesale gas prices due to Russia’s restriction of supplies. While both the US and the eurozone have also seen rising interest rates to tackle

However, it is important to note that the UK’s economy was already underperforming prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite being able to mitigate the pandemic quicker than

Figure 4: Contributions of component indices to quarterly change in the NICEI* Q1-2022




Public Sector






0.4% -0.4











Percentage points *Please note figures may not sum due to rounding Source: NISRA


Figure 5: Seasonally adjusted unemployment rate (age 16 and over), April-June 2007 to April-June 2022 10.0 9.0 8.0


7.0 6.0 5.0

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2.0 1.0

Ap r-J un 20 Ap 07 r-J un 20 Ap 08 r-J un 20 Ap 09 r-J un 20 Ap 10 r-J un 20 Ap 11 r-J un 20 Ap 12 r-J un 20 Ap 13 r-J un 20 Ap 14 r-J un 20 Ap 15 r-J un 20 Ap 16 r-J un 20 Ap 17 r-J un 20 Ap 18 r-J un 20 Ap 19 r-J un 20 Ap 20 r-J un 20 Ap 21 r-J un 20 22


expected (in September 2021 the UK economy sat 0.6 per cent below prepandemic level despite an original 4 per cent drop predicted by the OBR), economists estimate that when compared to eurozone and US economies, the UK economy is around 2-3 per cent below where it might have been without Brexit.

However, what has become clear is that Brexit and the Protocol measures that are in place currently have shifted trade patterns. The Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) recently highlighted a 34 per cent (£250 million) increase in trade from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland in Q1 2022, compared to the same time last year.

Longer-term predictions estimate that the UK economy will forgo 4 per cent of economic activity it may otherwise have had.

It is estimated that the value of goods moving north to south increased by 65 per cent (£3.35 billion) in the first year under the Protocol and the trend looks set to continue in 2022. Goods moving to Northern Ireland from the Republic grew at an even larger rate, rising almost 50 per cent in the first quarter when compared to the first three months of last year.

Protocol Recent research carried out by the London School of Economics, estimating the longer-run impacts of Brexit, suggest that Northern Ireland will be the UK regional economy least impacted by Brexit, largely due to the Protocol. The research estimates that the UK economy as a whole will be 1.3 per cent smaller when compared to a no Brexit scenario, but that Northern Ireland’s 0.7 per cent hit will be the smallest of the regions. The true impact of the Protocol has yet to be realised, with full implementation not yet in place and a move by the UK Government to domestically remove some of the previously agreed arrangements. ONS figures at the end of 2021 placed Northern Ireland as the fastest recovering region of the UK, albeit from a low base.

Northern Ireland economy Internally, the Northern Ireland economy also faces challenges. Prior to rising inflation underpinned by higher energy prices, there was a recognised need to restructure Northern Ireland’s labour market. The UUEPC’s Spring Outlook 2022 highlights that the demographics of Northern Ireland’s working population is changing. Compared to a 260,000person increase in the working age population in the three decades to 2010, the last decade has seen those aged 16-64 increase by just 15,000,

with an estimated growth of just 3,000 in the decade to 2030. While historically such a problem would be managed by increasing migration to bolster the labour market, Brexit and the pandemic has seen the number of non-UK national insurance applicants fall to just 2,000 in 2020/21, compared to an annual average of 15,000 between 2010 to 2020. Additionally Northern Ireland’s economy suffers from a ‘missing middle’. The education system is now retaining more people who would previously have entered the labour market with medium skill qualifications and employers continue to put value on higher qualification attainment, meaning a medium skill gap and a squeeze out those of low or no skills. In May 2022, official figures showed that Northern Ireland’s labour market hit a record 779,000 people in employment. However, by July, indications were that job market recovery was slowing and it is now recognised that amidst a tight labour market, people and skills remain the largest challenge. Contextually, it is important to note that employment growth in Northern Ireland still falls well below the UK average. Northern Ireland continues to have the worst employment profile of the UK regions and has the highest inactivity rates.


economy report

Protocol offers protection from ‘poorer and less productive’ UK by 2030 Northern Ireland will be the region of the UK to experience the least Brexit-induced economic decline due to the Protocol, academics from the London School of Economics and the Resolution Foundation think-tank have found. Despite a reluctance by those opposed to the post-Brexit trading arrangements to identify the Protocol as the reason the economic decline witnessed across the UK has been largely averted in Northern Ireland, when compared to other regions of the UK, the Resolution Foundation’s assessment of the longerrun impacts of Brexit points primarily at the Protocol as the reason for smaller economic contraction. Northern Ireland will experience economic decline from Brexit, with output falling by 0.7 per cent but this is significantly less than the UK average of 1.3 per cent. With the Protocol removed, it is estimated that Northern Ireland would experience a 1.1 per cent output shock. The research is based on current implementation of the Protocol, 40

whereby some grace periods are still in operation and so it is recognised that full implementation could have greater economic impacts. Much economic modelling on the effect of Brexit focused on immediate shocks, specifically a significant fall off of foreign direct investment (FDI). However, the research suggests that, rather than fundamental changes to the UK economy, the main economic impacts occurring are a reduction in household incomes as a result of inflation, as well as lower levels of investment and trade. Brexit did have immediate impacts on the UK economy. A year after the referendum, sterling was 12 per cent below its previous level and the cost of living had risen by an equivalent of £870 per year. At the same time,

business investment fell consistently in the three years post-referendum by an average of 0.1 per cent per quarter compared to growth of 1.7 per cent in the previous three years. In the longer term, immediately after the referendum, UK exports to and imports from the EU changed little. However, since the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, there have been significant changes. The research is quick to point out that many of these changes took place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, hence a focus “largely on the relative performance of UK trade with the EU relative to that with the rest of the world, or on the UK’s trade performance relative to similar economies during this exceptional period, rather than changes in the level of UK trade with the EU”.

Estimated falls in gross output by region relative to a no Brexit scenario, shock shown with contribution of future EU integration, and the Northern Ireland protocol: UK, 2030

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Output shocks are expected to be largest for the North East, and smallest for London, Northern Ireland and Scotland relative to a no Brexit scenario. Source: The Economy 2030 Inquiry: The Big Brexit

Describing an initial perception of an overall economic impact of Brexit being “a discrete, and relatively rapid, one-off impact”, the research says that the reality is a three-phase impact. 1. The immediate referendum impact whereby household incomes and business investment were impacted by the anticipation of permanent impacts; 2. How trade responds to the new barriers introduced through the Trade and Co-operation Agreement; and 3. Structural changes to the UK economy over the longterm, as capital and labour adjust to the new trading arrangements. “Overall, we find that the long-run impacts will mean significant change for some sectors of our economy, but the aggregate effect will be to reduce household incomes as a result of a weaker pound, and lower investment and trade,” the research suggests, although adding that while substantial, this adjustment is not expected to fundamentally alter the nature of the UK’s economy.

evidence of an expected relative decline in UK exports to the EU as good news, the report says that signals exist that Brexit is impacting UK trade openness and competitiveness more broadly. Highlighting an eight-percentage point drop in UK trade openness between 2019 and 2021, it states that the UK is the only large European country to experience a decline in openness since 2020, driven by goods trade. As a result, UK goods exports as a share of GDP were 15.7 per cent lower in December 2021 than they would have been in the absence of Brexit. Additionally, data on trade in international goods points to a broader loss in UK competitiveness, with the UK losing market share across three of its largest non-EU goods import markets in 2021. “It is unclear exactly how persistent these changes in non-EU trade will prove, but these are worrying signs that Brexit may have had a broader impact on the UK’s openness and competitiveness than expected,” it states.

The report suggests that while an expected relative decline in imports and exports is not clearly observable in UK data, the data of trading partners suggests UK goods exports to the EU have fallen by more than those to the rest of the world.

Forecasting the longer-run impacts of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the research predicts an increase in trade costs of 10.8 per cent for exports to the EU and 11 per cent for imports from the EU, rising to 16.2 per cent and 16.6 per cent respectively, when accounting for likely future EU integration.

Rather than view the absence of clear

As trade barriers look set to increase,

the research suggests that regulated and professional services will be hit harder than most during a substantial change to output. However, the new trading relationship with the EU “will not drive a large or swift labour market adjustment” in the UK economy. “It is more useful to think of Brexit as driving a fall in openness, rather than a big picture sectoral restructuring,” it states.

Regions In terms of Brexit’s impact on specific regions, the research says that Brexit will increase the existing productivity and income gaps of the UK’s poorest regions, with the real impact of Brexit being a hit to real wages and productivity, exacerbating the longstanding challenges faced by the UK. “A less-open UK will mean a poorer and less productive one by the end of the decade, with real wages expected to fall by 1.8 per cent… and labour productivity by 1.3 per cent, as a result of the long-run changes to trade under the TCA. This would be equivalent to losing more than a quarter of the last decade’s productivity growth.” The research concludes that although uncertainty exists over the Brexit impacts to date, especially because of the economic impact of Covid-19, a lasting impact of substantial reduced openness should be expected, alongside widespread productivity and real income shocks. 41

Skills: economy report

Retention and attraction key Ambitions to bridge skills gaps in the Northern Ireland economy should not only focus on the retention of skills in the local labour market, but also enhancing Northern Ireland’s attractiveness to skilled labour from elsewhere, a skills audit has found. Northern Ireland currently has one of the lowest abilities of all UK regions to attract talent, meaning the importance of talent retention is heightened. However, also highlighted in a recent assessment of Northern Ireland’s skills landscape is the importance of increasing the attractiveness of Northern Ireland to enable the importation of skills outside the local labour market. Described as the largest net loser of high skilled labour amongst UK regions, Northern Ireland faces not only shortterm labour pressures, exacerbated by the pandemic, but also long-term strategic challenges to develop and maintain an internationally competitive labour market. The long-standing prevalence of a ‘missing middle’ in the Northern Ireland economy’s skills supply continues to exist, as evidenced by the Department for the Economy’s latest Skills Barometer, and has in fact been exacerbated by the pandemic. Despite widespread acknowledgement of a changing mix of skill requirements, to address demand for the next decade and beyond, employers’ continued preference for highly qualified individuals continues to squeeze out those with low or no qualifications, as evidenced by an increase of those qualified to degree level or above now


accounting for 41 per cent of total hours worked in Q3 2021, up from 32 per cent in Q1 2020.

a range of other factors including a reduction in migrant labour availability, and highest levels of early retirement, coupled with economically inactive students, for over a decade.

As a result of employer preference, education attainment in Northern Ireland continues to increase with records showing that almost half (49 per cent) of Northern Ireland school leavers transitioned directly to higher education in 2020.

Increased retention in the education system is reducing the annual flow of qualifiers into the labour market and with a larger number of qualifiers achieving higher level qualifications, the labour supply is reduced for occupations and sectors typically associated with lower levels of graduate employment. However, despite this,

Challenges to ensuring a skills supply suitable to meet the changing demand of the future are also being impacted by

Demand and supply balances Average annual labour market supply gap by qualification (NQF), NI (2020-2030) Undersupply -840

Oversupply Level 6+



Level 4-5

Level 3


Level 2


Oversupply Less than NQF level 2 -3,000






270 0

Average annual supply gap by qualification

Source: UUEPC



there has been little change to the subject profile at higher education, highlighting the need to improve responsiveness to industry demand. “The overall supply of qualifications in Northern Ireland remains characterised by a ‘missing middle’, with relatively few mid-level skills provided by the education system which directly transition to the labour market,” the barometer states.

The barometer also identifies a subject imbalance at higher education level, with a particular undersupply in key narrow STEM subject areas such as computer science and engineering, as well as physical and environmental sciences. Welcoming the publication of the barometer, Minister for the Economy Gordon Lyons MLA says that the identification of labour supply challenges for the coming decade underpins existing policy objectives such as the creation of a culture of lifelong learning and provides clear evidence of the need to urgently

address the digital skills challenge. Outlining ongoing work between the Department and various stakeholders to “ensure we develop a skills system matched to the needs of a globally competitive small advanced economy”, he adds: “Addressing the skills imbalances is key to driving economic growth and delivering on our societal ambitions. We must ensure people are equipped to meet the changing demands of the labour market now, and in the future, as we strive to become one of the leading small economies of the world.

economy report

On the supply side, in the context of a high economic growth forecast predicting the creation of an additional 75,000 jobs over the decade, underpinned by rapid growth in sectors such as professional services, ICT and advanced manufacturing, future labour shortages are predicted. According to the barometer research, “there is limited scope to rely on catch up in labour market participation to expand the labour supply over the coming decade” and so, maximising labour force participation will be crucial to meet future skill needs.

decade. However, the risk of this flipping to undersupply exists if current pandemic-affected enrolment and attainment patterns, coupled with migration flows, persist.

“I am confident the latest edition of the skills barometer will help people to make career and subject choices and in turn assist businesses as we build the pathway to a 10X economy.”

Northern Ireland’s low ability to attract talent means that replacement demand is key and this is projected to provide a larger quantum of new jobs over the next decade than sector growth. Therefore, addressing changing skills demand will require a significant level of re-skilling and up-skilling of the current labour force. This challenge is not helped by Northern Ireland’s underperformance when compared to other UK regions on lifelong learning measures. “In a tight labour market learning opportunities linked to career progression paths will become important as firms compete for labour, and seek to retain existing talent,” the barometer states. On the supply side, the barometer identifies a slight undersupply of skills at degree level or above (NQF level 6+), but suggests that boosting the transversal skills and increasing work placements for graduates could address this by improving employability. A more significant undersupply exists at mid-level (NQF level three to five), reflecting a relatively small number of qualifiers at that level transitioning to the labour market. Qualifications of NQF level two and below, classed as low-level qualifications, are slightly oversupplied and will continue to be for the next

Source: UUEPC


economy report

Where have all the workers gone?

Despite a furlough scheme designed to keep employees linked with their employer and prevent high levels of unemployment, a labour shortage is evident in some sectors of the economy. Co-director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute Paul Mac Flynn examines where the workers have gone.


We are in the midst of one of the most serious economic disruptions since the financial crash of 2008. Skyrocketing energy prices are set to overwhelm businesses and households as we face into many months of double digit inflation. While much of our current predicament can be linked to the geopolitical and humanitarian disaster that is the war in Ukraine, there were serious concerns regarding inflation that predate the outbreak of the conflict.

furlough scheme that was introduced in the UK during the pandemic protected earnings for many workers throughout the crisis. What it also did was it kept people connected to their employer. This was an important design feature of the scheme.

As the economy eased out from the pandemic, we were facing serious production bottlenecks as supply desperately tried to catch up with a newly resurgent demand. Microchip shortages held up new phones and car sales, while building material shortages sent the cost of construction spiralling.

That was the plan. However, since the reopening of the economy, we have heard many anecdotes about businesses crying out for workers but unable to fill positions or retain staff. Where have all these workers gone then?

One of the other significant pressures on the economy was labour. The

The first thing to say is that there has not been an appreciable drop in the population. The number of people in

In the Republic of Ireland, many workers became unemployed and were supported through out-of-work benefits rather than remaining on the books with their employer. The thinking behind the furlough scheme was that if workers remained connected to their employer, it would be far easier to start the economy back up once the pandemic danger receded.

Northern Ireland and the number of people within that of working age has increased at pretty much the same pace as it did before the pandemic. The next thing to look at is whether the pandemic dislocated lots of people out of their jobs. The main employment statistics show that the unemployment rate, at 2.6 per cent, is incredibly low by historical standards and close to its pre-pandemic low point of 2.3 per cent. The employment rate has dipped slightly on its pre-pandemic low, but is above the average rate of the previous few years. If high levels of unemployment are not what is causing a labour shortage, then perhaps there has been a large exit of workers from the active workforce. In statistical terms we refer to people outside the labour force rather clumsily as ‘economically inactive’. This proposition has gained traction at UK level with many suggesting that the departure of older workers has led to a sudden, and likely enduring, loss to the workforce.

Shortage So, if we do not have masses of people unemployed and if the proportion of workers outside the workforce is only marginally higher, where is this shortage coming from? The next place to look is inside the workforce and the people who are at work. Is it possible that while the number of people at work is not at issue, but where they are working is? We may have the same numbers and proportion of people at work, but they may be working in different sectors or industries. When we did start up the economy again, staffing bottlenecks became apparent fairly immediately. Restaurants and the hospitality industry were among the most prominent examples. When we look at the figures though, the number of people employed in the accommodation and food sector is almost identical to what it was before the pandemic. The retail and construction sectors both saw significant reductions in employment in the last two years, but they also saw almost outsized increases in the two years that preceded the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic just evened that out. So, people moving between industries might explain disruption in some



40.0% 35.0%


30.0% 25.0% 20.0% 15.0% 10.0% 5. 0% 0. 0%

Mar-17 May-17 Jul-17 Sep-17 Nov-17 Jan-18 Mar-18 May-18 Jul-18 Sep-18 Nov-18 Jan-19 Mar-19 May-19 Jul-19 Sep-19 Nov-19 Jan-20 Mar-20 May-20 Jul-20 Sep-20 Nov-20 Jan-21 Mar-21 May-21 Jul-21 Sep-21 Nov-21 Jan-22 Mar-22

The final point to be made is that Northern Ireland has always had an elevated and volatile level of economic inactivity. This has been attributed to many things, but chief among them is a higher level of long-term illness that prevents many potential workers from entering the workforce. So, while we have seen a bigger increase in economic inactivity than Great Britain over the pandemic, the truth is that we have experienced these levels of economic inactivity in the recent past and it has not led to the type of labour shortage we are experiencing now.

Economic inactivity rate (16+) NI and GB 2017-2022

economy report

Looking at the figures, we can see that there has been a marked increase in inactivity in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, there are a number of points that need to be considered regarding that increase. Firstly, the increase in inactivity is significant compared with the pre pandemic period, but the current level is not significantly above the average of the last few years. Secondly, in Northern Ireland the increase in inactivity has been spread evenly enough amongst the age groups. In fact, the largest percentage increase was among the 16-24 age group.



(Source: ONS)

“Hours worked in the economy has still not recovered from the pandemic.” sectors, but not others. As with economic inactivity though, it does not feel like these figures have the necessary scale to really explain why we are seeing such disruption in our labour market.

a certain number of people have left the workforce since the pandemic;

some sectors have lost and gained employment but others, including hospitality remain the same; and

The last statistic to look at is one that is less reported than the others and that is hours worked. It was a pretty good indicator of the labour market at the start of the pandemic, but since then, we have paid less and less attention to it. Hours worked in the economy has still not recovered from the pandemic.

the average number of hours worked for full-timers has still not recovered.

In April 2022 the total average hours worked in Northern Ireland was 32.8 hours. That is up from a low of 27.4 in April 2020, but well below 33.9 in 2019. The decrease in average hours is almost exclusively confined to full-time workers. Part-timers are working the same hours as they did pre-crisis, whereas full-timers are working an average of two hours less per week. So, what we can gleam from these statistics is that:

A combination of all these effects likely explains our current labour market predicament. What we have to think about is why people leave the workforce or chose to work fewer hours within it. That brings us to other significant labour market issue of our time, pay. While pay has certainly rebounded since the pandemic, the years that preceded it produced less than impressive wage growth. In order to build a strong and resilient labour force, pay growth and progression needs to be seen as a necessity and not a hindrance.


Economy report

Challenges to increase the circularity of the Northern Ireland economy

Northern Ireland’s economy is only 7.9 per cent circular, leaving a 92 per cent circularity gap. If the economy is to transition away from its current linear model, which will be necessary with net zero commitments by 2050, then changing the operating model of many businesses, particularly in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, will be key. 46

Credit photo: Paul Lindsay

Annually, Northern Ireland consumes over 33.6 million tonnes of materials, equating to 16.6 tonnes per annum per capita, a figure which surpasses the global per capita average of 11.9 tonnes. The Circularity Gap Report was published by Circle Economy as an affiliate project of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE). The report acknowledges that Northern Ireland’s higher consumption per capita is underpinned by a relatively small population density of 135/km2, compared with, for example, England’s population density which is 434/km2. One of the contributing factors is the rural road network in Northern Ireland which consumes significant materials but serves relatively few people. The report asserts: “[Northern Ireland’s] low population density, requiring a higher use of resources for the provision of social amenities, roads and electrical infrastructure, for example, also contributes to the rather high levels of material consumption per capita. “Its moderately high material footprint is strongly tied to its emissions. With a consumption-based carbon footprint of 23 million tonnes, the average resident of Northern Ireland represents 9.1 tonnes of emissions per year—nearly double the global average,” the report states.

for agriculture, 80 per cent of which is used to raise cattle and sheep. The report critiques the use of agricultural land and indicates that the current proportion of farming land used for crops (5 per cent) needs to be increased.

Economy report

A transformation in lifestyle for the people of Northern Ireland away from avid consumerism, and towards a cohesive, community-based lifestyle will be key to transitioning away from the linear economic model. In addition, a change to the tax model will be necessary to provide incentives for businesses to adapt circular operating models, as well as investment in waste management schemes.

“The concentration of agricultural activity, manure from grazing livestock and use of synthetic fertilisers has contributed to excess of phosphates, ammonia in soils, and emissions of nitrous oxide and methane, greenhouse gases more potent than carbon dioxide,” the report adds. Simultaneously, the required retrofitting of the built environment to achieve circular growth will increase demand for roles such as installers, maintaining techniques, construction managers, quality control, and coordinating roles to help transition buildings away from oil-based heating systems. Therefore, construction employers, the report insists, have a responsibility to upskill their workforces. The report further identifies challenges if the economy is to transition towards a circular model, with many workers in ‘non-recycling’ sectors, such as mining, needing to be reemployed in other sectors. “For Northern Ireland specifically, research estimates that while moving towards a circular economy could bring between 13,000 and 17,000 jobs, the predicted net effects are modest or neutral,” the report notes, adding: “It is important to not just focus on the number of new jobs the circular economy can create, but to also consider the new ways of working and skills needed within existing jobs to enable the circular economy.”

The way forward Jobs Meanwhile, only 8.9 per cent of jobs in Northern Ireland currently fall into any category of circularity, meaning that less than one-in-10 of workers are currently in jobs which fall into any of the circular categories. Therefore, the task of increasing the circularity of the jobs market would have profound consequences, especially for the agriculture, manufacturing, and construction sectors, all of which are identified as big contributors to the linear model of the economy. Over 70 per cent of land in Northern Ireland is used

The report estimates that, although “current solutions are grossly inadequate for the challenges we face today”, Northern Ireland’s circularity can be viably doubled from 7.9 per cent to 16.1 per cent by 2032. Such an increase would almost halve the material footprint, bringing substantial positive impact in terms of climate objectives, supporting biodiversity, and reducing pollution. “This will also bring Northern Ireland's circularity nearly in line with the global average needed to limit global warming to 1.5oC and prevent the worst impacts of climate breakdown.”


economy report

More fiscal devolution for Northern Ireland?

Fiscal Commision NI Chair Paul Johnson with Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA.

Chair of the independent Fiscal Commission NI, Paul Johnson, talks to David Whelan about the case for the partial devolution of income tax powers to Northern Ireland, the full devolution of other taxes, and the risks associated with greater responsibility.


The Commission was tasked in March 2021 by Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA to examine the case for increasing the fiscal powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly and making recommendations on powers which could enhance the Assembly’s fiscal responsibilities. The Fiscal Commission’s report, in May 2022, returned 23 recommendations and established a strong case for devolving certain tax powers to go alongside the extensive powers the Executive already has over public spending.

where these regions subsequently progressed more political-focused commissions to agree a final package of change with the UK Government. The Northern Ireland Executive is currently in no position to do so.

Somewhat ironically, the report, which also looks at political and public sector capacity and capability to manage additional tax powers, has landed at a time when the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot meet, and Executive ministers are limited in what they can progress.

“Tax devolution will not happen overnight. It will require time to consider, to build consensus and to plan carefully. It is our hope that all the parties will take the opportunity to consider our report as they prepare for the resumption of devolved government,” he says.

Johnson explains that the work carried out contains parallels with similar ‘technical’ commissions previously established in Scotland and Wales, and

The context of the report is that while the Northern Ireland Executive enjoys control over almost all spending on public services (£9 in every £10 of

However, the Chair of the Fiscal Commission NI is confident that the analysis provided will stand the test of a considerable piece of time, explaining that the Commission delivered a “deliberately technocratic” report.

‘identifiable’ public spending), beyond business and household rates, it has little power to vary taxes and raises less than £1 in every £20 of the region’s tax revenue.


Johnson explains that full understanding of the Northern Ireland economy, a prerequisite of the Commission’s work, quickly highlighted the unfeasibility of full fiscal devolution. “The Northern Ireland economy is very different to that of England’s, in particular, in that incomes are lower, employment rates are lower, GDP per head is lower and economic inactivity is dramatically higher. Importantly for the tax system, relative to the UK, there are very few wealthy or high-income people, with only a fraction of higher rate or additional tax rate payers, when compared to England. I think all of these things, coupled with the large fiscal subvention, immediately lead to the conclusion that full fiscal autonomy, where Northern Ireland is in complete control of all tax and spend without any subvention, is for the birds. “However, given appropriate equalisation through the block grant, those differences need not actually impede the devolution of some tax powers. It does mean, however, that it would be highly important to get the block grant adjustments, which come with devolution and which compensate the UK Government for any tax revenues devolved to Northern Ireland, right. “Another perspective is that with a relatively poorly performing economy, there is an opportunity for additional powers to make a real difference to that performance. We were very clear that devolving tax powers should be as

much about reforming or reducing taxes in order to promote economic growth as it is about politicians potentially raising money for public services. And it is absolutely possible to design models of tax devolution that would suit the unique makeup of Northern Ireland’s economy.”

needing to build up administrative capacity in Northern Ireland, to reduce risk. Additionally, he suggests that the transfer of much larger volumes of revenue in the short term and to an administration which is significantly dependent on the block grant could be destabilising.

The Commission recommends the partial devolution of income tax, where the Assembly would have a degree of control over the rates, and potentially bands of income tax, but stresses the need for administration to continue to be carried out centrally by HMRC. In addition, it says that if the devolution of income tax should happen, then the devolution of the apprenticeship levy should happen in parallel – given the policy responsibility of the Executive in this area and the operational synergies that can be had alongside the devolution of income tax. The Commission also recommends that smaller taxes such as stamp duty, landfill tax, and air passenger duty could be devolved and in full.

It is for these reasons, as well as potentially high administrative costs, that the Commission recommends that any devolution of income tax continues to be managed from HMRC, learning from Scotland and Wales where such systems are already in place. However, the Commission does see value in local administrations having full powers and full administrative control over the smaller taxes such as stamp, APD, and landfill. They believe local administration of these taxes will allow greater scope for flexibility and innovation and improve public understanding of taxes. It will also increase accountability of the local administration and build that institutional capability.

Johnson is clear that while the recommendations are for incremental and limited tax devolution, the Commission’s research highlighted that there are a lot of current taxes that are, in principle, devolvable. “A substantial fraction of taxation could, at least technically, be devolved to Northern Ireland, if that was the desire of local and national politicians,” he states.

Fiscal frameworks

Gradual Outlining the Commission’s reasons for recommending a gradual approach, Johnson points to the pragmatism of

economy report

Northern Ireland’s economic performance is poor, with income per head some 25 per cent below the UK average and lower again than the Republic of Ireland. On many economic metrics, it is among the worst performing UK regions and around 90 per cent of the Executive’s public spending is financed from the block grant. While some believe devolution of taxes could help change the economic and political fortunes of the region, others point to the level of risk associated with aligning the Executive’s budget more closely to the raising of taxes within the region.

Both Scotland and Wales have negotiated ‘fiscal frameworks’ with the UK Government, essentially the mechanics of how any new powers are practically operated. These frameworks include, for example, how the block grant is adjusted, any new borrowing powers, how disputes are resolved, and tax forecasts made, given that particular taxes are devolved. The Commission’s Chair notes: “The agreement between the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government on how fiscal devolution is actually 4


economy report

Timeline of tax devolution in Scotland and Wales

Calman (2009) in Scotland and Holtham (2010) in Wales were similar technical Commissions to the Johnson Commission (2022) for Northern Ireland.

managed is the bedrock for success. Being clear on precisely how the block grant is impacted, and the tools to help the Executive manage any new powers will be key.”

Corporation tax The devolution of corporation tax ratesetting powers to Northern Ireland was legislated for in the UK Parliament in 2015, but there is little prospect of it happening on the ground any time soon. A push for devolution had been long-standing, with cross-party consensus secured a number of years ago. However, the current appetite is less clear. Additionally, the UK Government has yet to outline what it means by the Executive’s finances being ‘sustainable’ – a key condition it set before commencing the powers. Northern Ireland is uniquely positioned, whereby, the other jurisdiction on the island enjoys a 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate. Some have argued that the current case for devolution has been strengthened by the UK Government’s Spring Budget 2021 announcement that the UK corporation tax rate will rise to 25 per cent from April 2023. Even in the face of an increase in the Republic’s rate to 15 per cent, for larger firms, a big difference exists between north and south. Johnson admits that of the over 20 taxes examined by the Commission, corporation tax was amongst the most difficult. “Our key conclusion is that there is value in the Executive seeking to complete the devolution of corporation tax. However, there is little value in the Executive simply calling for it in isolation. It needs to be agreed in lockstep with the UK Government. The only plausible reason for wanting 50

corporation tax devolved is to lower the rate, which at least in the short run will lead to a significant loss of revenue.” Practically, he states, UK Government approval could require quite radical promises from the Executive to either cut spending, raise other taxes to increase revenue or borrow. However, in principle, he agrees there is a case for having different corporation tax rates for poorer regions of the UK. The Commission states in its report that there “is a case for lower rates of corporation tax in poorer regions of the UK in general and, given the proximity of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland in particular”. Johnson explains that an economic case exists but also recognises the uncertainty around the scale of impact. Johnson says: “We noted that the lower rate had clearly played a role in the economic development of the Republic of Ireland over time, but how much of a role it continues to play is unclear. What is clear is that cutting corporation tax is not in itself a basis for economic growth and would need to be part of a much wider economic strategy and package for Northern Ireland.”

Conclusion Johnson concludes: “Our Commission has been clear from the beginning. While there are benefits to be had from fiscal devolution in terms of political accountability and tailoring local policies for local needs, increased fiscal devolution comes with risks. If revenues were to grow more slowly than in the rest of the UK then Northern Ireland could lose out, and it is possible to make policy mistakes. “While it must be remembered that Northern Ireland is only at the beginning of a potential fiscal devolution journey, it is our view that the constituent parts could be put in place to realise significant increased fiscal devolution to Northern Ireland by 2027/28, as per the framework outlined in our final report. “Ultimately, whether devolution happens or not remains a choice for politicians both in Northern Ireland and the UK, but it is our view that some tax devolution could be an important step towards a more accountable devolved government for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Profile: Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) Paul Johnson has been Director of the IFS since January 2011. He is also currently visiting professor in the Department of Economics at University College London and is a member of the Climate Change Committee. He has previously worked in Treasury as Director of Public Services and from 2004 to 2007 he was the Deputy Head of the Government Economic Service.

Annual Northern Ireland Economic Conference 2022

An agendaNi event

Host local authority

Antrim and


Wednesday 30th November ● Hilton Hotel Templepatrick The Northern Ireland Economic Conference, now in its 27th year, is Northern Ireland’s premier economic analysis event and is unique in being the only forum that takes a high level look at the performance of, and prospects for the local economy. It is firmly established as the annual autumn summit for Northern Ireland’s economic community, including policy makers and business leaders. The 2022 conference is against a backdrop of surging inflation and the most negative forecast from the Bank of England – warning of a protracted recession and the worst squeeze on living standards in more than 60 years. Northern Ireland is particularly vulnerable to the coming downturn as economic output (GVA) has not recovered to the level before the financial crash of 2008. Expert speakers will discuss all the key issues and share their thoughts on the economic outlook for Northern Ireland.

Speakers include:


Gordon Lyons MLA Minister for the Economy

Paul Johnson Director of Institute for Fiscal Studies and Chair of Independent Fiscal Commission Northern Ireland

Professor Raquel Ortega-Argilés Director, The Productivity Lab and Chair, Regional Economic Development Alliance Manchester Business School

Jacqui Dixon Chief Executive Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council

Gareth Hetherington Director, Northern Ireland Centre for Economic Policy (NICEP) Ulster University

Maeve Monaghan Chief Executive NOW Group

Janice Gault Chief Executive Northern Ireland Hotels Federation

Louise Warde-Hunter Principal and Chief Executive Belfast Metropolitan College

David Gavaghan Founder Aurora Prime Real Estate

Chris Giles Economics Editor FT

Stephen Kelly Chief Executive Manufacturing NI

Noyona Chundur Chief Executive Consumer Council for Northern Ireland

Dr Lisa Wilson Senior Economist Nevin Economic Research Institute

Jennifer Neff Co-founder and CEO Elemental Software

Dr Lynsey Quinn Senior Skills and Partnerships Manager The Open University in Ireland

Key issues to be examined by the expert speakers include: UK economic prospects

Driving local economic development

A framework for enhanced fiscal devolution

Employment: The shape of the workforce post pandemic

Northern Ireland medium term economic outlook

The growing skills gaps in the economy

Impact of inflation on consumers

Energy prices and security of supply

Addressing the productivity challenge

Fostering entrepreneurship

Sponsorship opportunities available There are still a small number of available sponsorship opportunities at this year’s conference. Sponsorship of the annual Northern Ireland Economic Conference is an excellent way for organisations to raise their profile with a key audience of economic decision-makers and senior business leaders. For further details or to discuss how your organisation can benefit from close association with Northern Ireland’s premier economic analysis event, contact us on 028 9261 9933 or email

Register Now T: 028 9261 9933



Northern Ireland’s productivity gap economy report

Research Fellow with the Northern Ireland Productivity Forum at Queen’s University Belfast, David Jordan outlines the key causes of Northern Ireland’s large productivity gap. Northern Ireland’s economy currently faces several challenges. The effects of the pandemic are still being felt, with households facing double digit inflation, and a recession expected by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the situation surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol continues to create uncertainty for local businesses. Yet the biggest challenge facing the local economy is low productivity. Productivity measures the total value of output produced for a given amount of work. It is a key driver of higher wages and living standards. The UK’s productivity growth has stagnated since the 2007-2008 financial crisis. This problem is even more pronounced in Northern Ireland, where productivity is 17 per cent below the UK average, and consistently the worst of any UK region (Figure 1). At the Northern Ireland Productivity Forum, based at Queen’s Management School, we have been looking at the reasons for Northern Ireland’s productivity gap. It is not a new phenomenon, as the gap existed prior to the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the


Troubles, and even partition. Examining the evidence suggests a combination of factors is to blame. Northern Ireland’s higher concentration in low productivity sectors, such as agriculture and retail, is often presented as the main reason for low productivity. Yet, if Northern Ireland had the same economic structure as Great Britain, this would reduce the productivity gap by less than half. While increasing employment in high productivity sectors is beneficial, policymakers equally need to address the ‘long tail’ of low productivity firms which lag behind their peers. Geographic peripherality is sometimes blamed for Northern Ireland’s low productivity, due to local producers potentially facing higher transport costs, and a small domestic market. However, transport costs have been shown to be only marginally higher. Instead, it is distance from networks and knowledge which creates a barrier to productivity growth. During the 20th century, local policymakers focused on raising levels of capital to try and address low

productivity. Today, the amount of capital per worker is around the UK average, but the productivity gap remains. Attention has instead turned to levels of innovation. Northern Ireland is one of the UK regions with the lowest R&D intensity, with it being concentrated in a small number of large firms. Skills and training are strongly linked to productivity; this is an area where Northern Ireland has persistently underperformed. A skills deficit exists, with Northern Ireland having the highest proportion of individuals with no or low skills of any UK region. The brain drain of tertiary educated individuals is not as severe as it once was, but this has yet to be translated into improved productivity. Northern Ireland’s infrastructure gap has been linked to low productivity. Public expenditure on infrastructure lags behind the rest of the UK, particularly in transport and the water network, and reflects a long-run pattern of underinvestment. This makes it more difficult to attract new investment, and limits opportunities for existing firms to grow.

Figure 1: Value of output per hour worked (UK=100)

economy report

“Tackling low productivity is often stated as an aspiration of policymakers, but it is rarely used to measure the outcome of interventions.”

Policymakers have long been aware of the productivity gap, but policy interventions have a poor track record. In the past, high levels of unemployment, particularly in manufacturing, saw generous financial support provided to firms. But this led to a low-skilled workforce producing low-value goods, and allowed low-productivity firms to survive. Recent policy has focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, but the productivity gap has persisted. Several potential reasons exist for the failure of policy. Past problems were often misdiagnosed, while policy interventions have not been sufficiently joined-up to address areas of weakness. Tackling low productivity is often stated as an aspiration of policymakers, but it is rarely used to measure the outcome of interventions. Northern Ireland’s large public sector has been suggested as contributing to the productivity gap, by absorbing skilled labour and crowding out private investment. The alternative view is that the effectiveness of public policy in building a successful private sector is more important for competitiveness. Institutions and governance may best explain past policy failures. Productivity has often been subordinate to other institutional priorities, such as political stability. During ‘the Troubles’, public expenditure was used to stabilise the economy, with policymakers balancing economic and non-economic considerations. Today, the legacy of a divided society has been linked to the emigration of skilled labour, and long-term health problems affecting the productivity of those in work. The evidence demonstrates that Northern Ireland’s problem of low productivity is complex, with no single cause. While economic structure, geographic peripherality, and levels of capital were important in the past, today’s biggest barriers to productivity growth can be found in low levels of R&D, skills, and infrastructure. But closing the productivity gap is not an insurmountable challenge. The ability to do so will depend on whether local institutions can overcome their past failings, and improve the quality and effectiveness of policy interventions, so that the local economy can reach its full potential.


economy report

Horizon Europe: ‘Plan B’

Northern Ireland is at risk of being excluded from the world’s largest international research programme as a result of the UK Government’s unilateral action to alter the Protocol. The UK Government’s domestic legislative efforts to unilaterally remove parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which the EU has warned could endanger the wider trade deal, also means that the UK’s initial plans to be an associate member of the over €95 billion Horizon Europe programme has yet to be secured. Horizon Europe is a seven-year programme, with funding available over the seven years from 20212027. It is the successor programme of Horizon 2020, which saw researchers and businesses in Northern Ireland draw down almost €100 million for the local economy. Almost 300 participants in Northern Ireland were successful in drawing funds from Horizon 2020, with an estimated €323,469 available for each successful application, however, despite an even greater tranche of funding being made available under the new Horizon Europe programme,


concerns are growing that UK participants, including those in Northern Ireland, could be locked out of accessing funding. Participation in the programme is not limited to EU member states, a point of critical importance for those researchers and scientists collaborating internationally, but all previous non-member states to associate with the programme have all had a wider trade deal with the bloc. The European Commission has published all work programmes for Horizon Europe and a new incorporation of research and innovation “missions” are designed to increase the effectiveness of funding by pursuing clearly defined targets in the areas of: adaptation to climate change including societal transformation; cancer research; climate-neutral and smart cities; healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters; and soil health and food.

The UK Government states that it still intends to associate with the programme, as agreed as part of the 2020 Brexit agreement, and encourages potential beneficiaries to “bid for funding opportunities on the same terms as EUbased applicants”, even though the association has not been formalised.

Only 17 of the 125 eligible proposals submitted by Horizon Europe by Northern Ireland researchers have been considered successful to date. Although initially guaranteeing funding for the first wave of eligible and successful applicants to Horizon Europe who have been unable to sign grant agreements, it is understood that the UK Government is prepared to redistribute funding

It is understood that over 100 successful applicants from the UK have not been able to secure final sign off for funding, with some choosing to move their work to a European institution to do so.

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However, despite consistent reassurances, association with the programme may be in jeopardy which highlighted in November 2021 when the UK’s then-Science, Research and Innovation Minister George Freeman MP announced a ‘plan B’ “safety net for Horizon Europe applicants” stating that successful applicants for Horizon Europe grant awards will be guaranteed funding regardless of the outcome of the UK’s efforts to associate to Horizon Europe.

connections forged over four decades to the world’s leading collaborative research programme through poor statecraft is worse than bad. It makes a mockery of the Government’s self-proclaimed ambition to turn the UK into a global science superpower.”

What the proposed distribution of R&D funding by the UK Government will mean for Northern Ireland’s scientists and researchers is unclear, however, in a separate audit of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the body responsible for delivering the initial cover for the first wave of funding, it was found that the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation allocated less than 1 per cent of purse to Northern Ireland in 2020/21. Overall, Northern Ireland received £48 million out of around £5.3 billion spent by UKRI's research councils and Innovate UK in 2020/21. The Department for the Economy says: “Despite the UK not yet having formally associated to the programme, Northern Ireland researchers and businesses have been able to apply to Horizon

“Only 17 of the 125 eligible proposals submitted by Horizon Europe by Northern Ireland researchers have been considered successful to date.” earmarked to buy in to Horizon Europe to UK government R&D programmes. In July 2022, the UK Government set out a new package of transitional measures which it says will “ensure the stability and continuity of funding for researchers and businesses”, and will come into force if the UK is not able to associate to Horizon Europe. Criticism levelled at this approach is that financial backing alone will not cover the collaborative opportunities offered through Horizon Europe which have been so successful to date. Writing in the Financial Times science commentator Anjana Ahuja said: “Losing

Europe calls since the start of the programme. The latest available figures show that Northern Ireland researchers across academia, the private and public sectors have submitted 125 eligible proposals to Horizon Europe. Seventeen of those proposals have been considered successful with associated funding of €6.17 million. “Northern Ireland Government officials continue to engage with UK Government officials to stay abreast of UK-EU engagement and contribute to the development of UK transition and alternative plans if required, to ensure that Northern Ireland’s unique position is considered and that any alternatives best meet the needs of Northern Ireland.”


Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

social economy report

Placing social value at the heart of public procurement

Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA outlines the initial impact of the newly introduced policy of mandatory scoring of social value within public procurement. On 1 June 2022, a new Executive policy came into effect making it mandatory to score social value within public procurement. Since then over £78 million worth of government tenders have been published which include social value in the award criteria. These tender opportunities cover a range of areas including facilities management, IT and construction. Evaluating social value alongside quality and cost provides a more complete assessment of the best tender. It rewards companies for doing the right thing while ensuring the Executive harnesses its £3 billion spending power for the good of society. The new policy applies to tenders for services contracts worth over £123,000 and construction contracts with a value


over £4.7 million. These make up approximately 95 per cent of the total value of government contracts. So, the policy undoubtedly represents a step change in how we do procurement. The Procurement Board, which developed the policy, rightly advised that such a significant change needed a period of preparation. A lead in period of approximately nine months was therefore provided to ensure the transition was as seamless as possible. An extensive training programme was put in place for both industry and government. The Strategic Investment Board’s (SIB) Social Value Team delivered 70 seminars right across the North to public sector bodies and industry. SIB has also rolled out elearning tools to suppliers, voluntary, community

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

social economy report Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA during a visit to USEL.

and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations and public sector commissioners to ensure they were equipped to implement this policy. Suppliers bidding for public contacts can deliver social value by choosing from a menu of options including: employment and training opportunities for those who face barriers to employment; promoting ethical supply chains to tackle modern slavery and protect human rights; net zero carbon and environmental protection and improvement; and measures to support the health and wellbeing of the contract workforce. This flexible approach enables suppliers to tailor the social value outcome to the circumstances of the individual contract. Social value is fundamental to the ethos of VCSE organisations. As such, they are well placed to meet the social value criteria included in public contracts. I also want to see government make more use of the facility to reserve contracts for organisations with a social purpose or whose main aim is the social and professional integration of disabled or disadvantaged persons. In May 2022 Usel, which supports disabled and disadvantaged people in the workplace, was

awarded one of the first ever government contracts reserved for organisations with social purpose. Awarding of this £317,000 contract helped to create 15 jobs for people with health conditions and disabilities by providing sustainable jobs, training and support. In the health sector, suppliers providing vehicle maintenance services are now sourcing uniforms and printing from social economy organisations that employ and train people that face barriers to employment, providing new skills and improving future employability. Suppliers and the public sector recognise the benefits of considering social value at the outset of tender opportunities. In order to build on this momentum, the Executive will be asked to increase the minimum weighting for social value to 20 per cent from June 2023. I hope that the Executive agrees to increase the emphasis on social value so that its spending power can deliver more economic, environmental and wider societal benefits. You can find details of government contract opportunities at


Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

Profit with

purpose social economy report

attending events. Jess also says, “With this being our 10th anniversary, our awards evening on 14 October will be a celebration of the sector with this year’s applications up 25 per cent on those of previous years, a clear indication in the growth of the sector.”

Colin Jess, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise NI.

Much has been said about the current economic situation and the increasing pressure that rising fuel, energy and food costs are having on businesses. Despite this, Colin Jess, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise NI, remains positive. The pressure on businesses is no different for social enterprises which face the additional challenge in that reduced profits and diminishing returns means less impact, less support provided to those marginalised in society and less support for those furthest from the labour market. In effect, social enterprises face a business challenge on two fronts. “As the representative and membership body for social economy businesses in Northern Ireland, we are delighted to see more members developing social partnerships and delivering goods and


services of quality alongside their private sector competitors,” says Jess. “Daily, there are an increasing number of enquiries from private and public sector businesses who want to include social enterprises within their supply chain, seeing the real impact on their own business of working alongside the sector.” Without doubt progress had been made on several fronts over the past 12 months, with Social Enterprise NI leading the sector forward. Social Enterprise NI membership continues to grow, alongside increased numbers

The pursuance of social value legislation in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK which does not recognise social value in procurement, remains a real focus for Social Enterprise NI. The appointment of Jess by the Minister of Finance to the reconstituted Procurement Board is clear recognition of the role of social enterprise and this has created the opportunity for the sectors views to be heard at the highest level. According to Jess: “The successful launch of Public Procurement Notes (PPN 01/21 and 02/21) is just the beginning. PPN 01/21 ensures that central government allocate a score of 10 per cent of contracts to social value with a commitment to consider raising this to 20 per cent in June 23 following consultation. PPN 02/21 also promotes the use of reserve contracts for organisations employing 30 per cent or more of their workforce from a disadvantaged background, a process which is more widely used and accepted in other parts of the UK. Both are a huge step forward for the sector however we will still pursue social value legislation, similar to that in England and Wales, to encompass all public sector expenditure.” Social Enterprise NI is also partnering with Ulster University to create a Transformation Academy and in this regard is hosting workshops with central and local government with a view to providing commissioners with the necessary tools, skills, and technics to drive innovation and transform the delivery of public services while ensuring and enabling the successful delivery of policy outcomes. But how can the views of social

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

social economy report

Right to left: Diane Forsythe MLA; John Blair MLA; John Stewart MLA; Cate Conway, SENI Ambassador; Seamus Corrigan, Envirocare; at the last All Working Party Group meeting in May 2022.

enterprise be heard at the heart of the Northern Ireland economy where it belongs? Jess is championing the need for a National Strategy for Social Enterprise for Northern Ireland. “To have a strategy and policy signed off by all government departments and political parties to support the growth of the sector in Northern Ireland would be a huge step forward and confirm the position of the social economy at the heart of government thinking, and indeed any future Programme for Government. It was clear in the length of time it took to receive financial support during Covid, that the lack of such a policy had a detrimental impact on the social enterprise sector overall.” Whilst the social economy is mentioned within consultations such as the 10X economy document, this comprised of three short paragraphs and did not reflect the strength within the sector and how it can deliver real impact to support those at most need in the community. The sector needs to be taken seriously and Social Enterprise NI are working with the Department for the Economy to deliver a National Strategy as soon as possible. Social Enterprise NI will also publish a database of all social enterprises based in Northern Ireland and this will be available in the coming months. This will provide information by business sector and location and enable private sector to select which local organisations they should choose to partner with. Social Enterprise NI would like to put on record its thanks to the All-Party Group at Stormont who provide support and

“To have a strategy and policy signed off by all government departments and political parties to support the growth of the sector in Northern Ireland would be a huge step forward and confirm the position of the social economy at the heart of government thinking, and indeed any future Programme for Government.” are already individually championing the need for a National Strategy along with a Social Value Act for NI. As we approach Global Entrepreneurship Week (14-18 November), please look out for the activities of social enterprises in your area and give them your support. Why not consider engaging with local social enterprises and create social value in your work, like many other private sector businesses? Contact Social Enterprise NI to see how you can get involved.

So, let’s work together in partnership; come and join us and play a part in creating a new economy for all and generate real profit with purpose.

T:+44 (0)28 9046 1810 E: W:

Imagine a world where business operates as a force for good and where profits or surpluses are recycled back into local communities to support those at most need. The social economy already operates in this environment. 59

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

social economy report

Knowing the value

Having established the social enterprise in 2015, Madlug CEO Dave Linton has created a corporation which has donated over 56,000 bags and suitcases to children in care. The entrepreneur talks to Joshua Murray about Madlug’s operation and plans for the future. 60

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

Madlug, which stands for ‘Make a Difference Luggage’, has grown in its seven years of operations. It has been awarded Social Enterprise of the Year in Northern Ireland in 2022, and is also a recognised UK B corporation, which is a prestigious global certificate.

With Northern Ireland lacking a functioning Executive, whilst adhering to net zero commitments and trying to increase the circularity of the economy, it is increasingly recognised that social enterprises have a pivotal role in delivering social value from investments in the economy.

Getting started Linton, a former youth worker, says that he decided to create a social enterprise after he saw a video of children in social care in Northern Ireland who were required to use binbags to transport their possessions when moving between foster families and accommodation. “It was at that moment that I felt that I had to do something and doing some journeying, reflecting, looking at different models, I chose the social enterprise model as the best means of giving bags to those in need and removing binbags from the care system.” He adds: “I knew that funding for the charity world was not getting any bigger and was becoming very competitive and I just thought that if you do business and do it well, then business works.” “I am very proud of Madlug, over 56,000 children have been spared from the indignity of having to use bin bags whilst moving within the care system.” Whilst Linton believes that there needs to be more government support, he has said that what was provided to him was adequate to get Madlug off the ground. “There was mentoring and free office space. There was support from our local council and Invest NI, as well as all of the normal bodies. There were also agencies and organisations like Social Enterprise NI that gives ongoing support to social enterprises who are at our stage in the journey.”

Linton says that social enterprises are a “deeply rewarding” kind of business to operate and that, despite the challenges of inflation, the Northern Ireland Protocol and space for more enthusiasm from government, that there is room to expand the sector.

social economy report

Historically viewed as operating on the fringes of the economy, social enterprise is a business model whereby the business uses its profits to reinvest into the community and deliver social value. It has grown in prominence in recent years, with companies like Madlug demonstrating the ability to operate at scale.

Challenges for social enterprises

“Social enterprise makes sense in that it focuses business on using their profits for the good of society as a whole. Social enterprise is business first, but what we do is use our profits for social impact so I would encourage as many people as possible to consider it.” The Northern Ireland Protocol has presented Madlug with a unique set of challenges as a UKwide company based in Northern Ireland. “If we were a business that had more sales into Ireland as a whole island and into the European Union, then the Protocol would be a win for us, but 80 per cent of our market is in the UK. So we are trying to work with the Protocol. If we get bigger as a company, then our administration costs will increase, partially due to the Protocol, and that is a cost to a business that others do not have to carry.”

Plans for the future Linton says that, in the next 10 years, Madlug aims to set up operations in at least one other country, and to increase the amount of bags donated from 56,000 to 300,000. “We want to be a recognised UK-wide brand, not just as a social enterprise, we want to be taking on the big players as a social enterprise in the business world.” Linton believes that the Executive, if reestablished, needs to be more enthusiastic about the facilitation and potential of social enterprises in Northern Ireland. “If you look at the Department for the Economy, they support social enterprise, in my opinion, because they feel that they have to, but they don’t show us the same value as they might do for so-called ‘proper business’.” Linton concludes by stating that there needs to be a broad consensus reached to define exactly what a social enterprise is. “Social enterprise struggles to define itself. It can be a community project of two or three people donating food and it having huge impact in a very small area, or it can be a national brand like ours.”


social economy report

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

APG on social enterprise re-established The all-party group (APG) on social enterprise has been re-established following the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May 2022. Without a functioning Executive, Stormont is unable to conduct its usual business in the chamber or at committee level, thus increasing the relative importance of APGs. 11 MLAs have signed up as member of the Social Enterprise APG. Six of them are from the Alliance Party, one is from Sinn Féin, two are from the Ulster Unionist Party, and two are from the Democratic Unionist Party. 62

Five of the members were also members at the end of the last mandate of the Assembly. These members are: Stewart Dickson MLA (chair), John Stewart MLA, Kellie Armstrong MLA, Andy Allen MLA and Mike Nesbitt MLA. Six members who served at the end of the last term will not be returning: Michelle McIlveen MLA, Rachel Woods, Robbie Butler MLA, Pat Catney, Harry Harvey MLA, and Chris Lyttle.

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

All-party group on social enterprise: Membership Stewart Dickson MLA (Returning member) Party: Alliance Party Constituency: East Antrim Role: Chair

Ciara Ferguson MLA (New member) Party: Sinn Féin Constituency: Foyle

Mike Nesbitt MLA (Returning member) Party: Ulster Unionist Party Constituency: Strangford About: First elected to the Assembly in 2011. In 2012 he became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, subsequently resigning after the party’s disappointing results in the 2017 Assembly elections. Before entering politics, Nesbitt was a journalist with UTV for 14 years. Nesbitt is also the chair of the board of governors of Movilla High School.

Role: Vice-chair About: Entered politics in September 2021 after being co-opted to replace former Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson. She was subsequently reelected in Foyle in 2022. Before entering politics, the Strabane native was a community development worker for 20 years, and a social survey researcher for 10 years.

Diane Forsythe MLA (New member) Party: Democratic Unionist Party Constituency: South Down About: Newly elected in 2022 after being selected by the DUP to replace the long-serving Jim Wells. She became the first female unionist ever to have been elected in South Down. Before entering politics, Forsythe was an accountant.

Kellie Armstrong MLA (Returning member) Party: Alliance Party Constituency: Strangford About: First entered politics in 2013 when she was co-opted onto Ards Borough Council, before being re-elected onto the new Ards and North Down Borough Council in 2014. She was first elected to

Deborah Erskine MLA (New member) Party: Democratic Unionist Party Constituency: Fermanagh and South Tyrone About: Having been elected to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in 2019, Erskine was co-opted to the Assembly in 2021 after Arlene Foster’s resignation. She served on the Health Committee and was re-elected in 2022. Before entering politics, she was a journalist with the Ulster Herald before becoming a DUP press officer.

John Stewart MLA (Returning member) Party: Ulster Unionist Party Constituency: East Antrim About: First elected to the Assembly in 2017. He was deputy chair of the Committee of the Executive Office during the last mandate. In addition to his duties in Stormont, he is a member of the British Army reserves, and formally worked as sales director of his family’s shoe business.

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About: First entered politics in 1977, when he was elected to Carrickfergus Borough Council. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2011, and has since been re-elected three times. In addition to his duties as an MLA, Dickson is a trustee of OG Cancer NI; an Honorary Treasurer of the Northern Ireland Association Winston Churchill Fellows; and a trustee of the Greenisland War Memorial Sports Club.

the Assembly in 2016 and was subsequently re-elected in 2017 and 2022. She is the Alliance Party’s spokesperson for communities, and was the deputy chair of the Committee for Communities in the last mandate of the Assembly.

Patrick Brown MLA (New member) Party: Alliance Party Constituency: South Down About: Newly elected to the Assembly in 2022, having previously served as a councillor in Newry, Mourne, and Down District Council between 2014 and 2022. He holds a PhD in universal basic income and conflict transformation.

Danny Donnelly MLA (New member) Party: Alliance Party Constituency: East Antrim About: Newly elected in 2022, having been a councillor on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council between 2019 and 2022. He is a nurse by profession, and a former member of the Green Party, for whom he stood as a candidate in the 2011 local elections.

Peter McReynolds MLA (New member)

John Blair MLA

Party: Alliance Party

(New member)

Constituency: Belfast East

Party: Alliance Party

About: The newly elected MLA is a former Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, who served on Belfast City Council from 2016 until his election to the Assembly in 2022. He also worked as a policy officer for Alliance leader Naomi Long MLA.

Constituency: South Antrim About: Co-opted into the Assembly after the retirement of former Alliance leader David Ford. He was a member of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the last mandate. He is also a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and chair of the board of governors of Ballyhenry Primary School.


social economy report

Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

A Social Value Bill:

Still waiting

Despite unanimous cross party support, Northern Ireland remains the only region of the UK without social value legislation. Returned Chair of the AllParty Group on Social Enterprise Stewart Dickson MLA outlines the need for implementation of the ready-made Bill to build on progress to date. In early 2017, the Finance Minister, Conor Murphy MLA stated that the Executive would bring forward social value legislation. This announcement came off the back of a Private Member’s Bill that I proposed in the Assembly, which was subsequently taken up and shaped by the All-Party Group (APG) on Social Enterprise. It is now August 2022, and social value legislation is still non-existent in Northern Ireland. Why? Because time and time again, the functioning of Stormont has been frustrated by the on-and-off-again nature of political manoeuvring in recent times. But where social value legislation is concerned, the APG on Social Enterprise has already done the work. The content is quite literally sitting there ready to go. It is not a long bill and all that is really needed


Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

“Without legislation applicable to central government, local government and arm’s length social economy report

bodies, social value as a consideration for the awarding of public sector contracts is not guaranteed.”

is for politicians to agree to get back to work, and then for the Finance Minister to really commit to pushing this piece of legislation through. But what is a Social Value Bill? What is a social enterprise for that matter? In my mind, a social enterprise is a commercial business like any other, with a focus on generating profit. What is different about a social enterprise, is that generated profit is re-invested back into the company in line with the organisations social or environmental mission. What social value legislation would aim to achieve, is more access and opportunity for social enterprises to compete on a level playing field for public contracts. Beyond that, it would ensure that all bids for publicly tendered procurements would have to be considered through the lens of social value. There are a multitude of varying ‘types’ of social enterprise currently operating in Northern Ireland. In fact, there are approximately 900 social enterprises, employing thousands, and generating millions, operating across the region. Each social enterprise is dedicated to their own philanthropic mission. The benefits of social enterprises on our society are wide-ranging. Often coming to the aid of the Executive, and taking pressure off government departments. For instance, social enterprises can help reduce the demand on healthcare services, by providing purpose and boosting mental health and wellbeing for individuals often prevented from accessing the labour market. Reoffending rates, for those who have gone through the justice system, have been shown to be lower for those that have been employed by a social enterprise. The knock-on effects of these benefits is not just obvious for the public purse, but also in the social makeup and happiness of our local communities. Moreover, social enterprises have proven themselves to be exceptionally innovative and flexible. During the worst of the pandemic, many social enterprises were able to pivot their operation, reframing their work to ‘solve’ or ‘abate’ a Covid-caused problem. For instance, some companies began producing hand sanitiser or PPE at a time when Northern Ireland was experiencing increased demand. All of this was done with the specific social value mission kept at the core of their work.



Social Enterprises leading the way in Social Value

So why is Northern Ireland the only region of the UK to not have social value legislation? England’s Public Services (Social Value) Act came into effect in 2013, Scotland’s Procurement Reform Act came into effect in 2014, and the Welsh Wellbeing of Future Generations Act came into effect in 2015.

social economy report

In Northern Ireland, the public sector spends in excess of £3 billion annually on goods, services, and works. This amounts to more than a quarter of the Executive’s budget. A Social Value Act would allow this public spending to go further for the people of Northern Ireland, as it has statistically been proven to do in other areas of the UK.

Progress Despite the on-again-off-again nature of Stormont over the past decade, it must be said that some significant progress in the area of social value has been made. In December 2020, the Finance Minister restructured the Procurement Board so that when assessing tenders, contribution to social good is a required field of consideration. Moreover, the Minister appointed Colin Jess, Director of Social Enterprise NI, to the Board. Previous ministers took other steps to promote the profile of social enterprises, including making it easier for social enterprises to access skills programmes and other government support packages. However, all of these steps fall short of legislation. Without legislation applicable to central government, local government, and arm’s length bodies, social value as a consideration for the awarding of public sector contracts is not guaranteed. This is key because, by spending smarter, public money being channelled into necessary services comes full circle by being reinvested for community benefit. For local communities, this means that social, economic, and environmental issues can be tackled alongside everyday community needs. This is the definition of a ‘two birds with one stone’ solution; a win-win for Northern Ireland. What is needed is a move away from decisions being made on a ‘most economically advantageous tender’ basis, to a ‘most advantageous tender’ approach which allows for the factoring in of social value. The goal of any public sector procurement is surely to make society and our planet a better place to live. For this, price is a factor yes, but not the only factor, and that is what this legislation would instil. If only we could get an operational Executive, there might even be a silver lining to the long delays in passing this legislation. By this, I mean we have the benefit of hindsight, and can assess how legislation has worked in other regions. For instance, we could include provisions for public sector organisations to consider breaking out contracts into ‘lots’. Smaller social enterprises often struggle to bid for contracts, especially because partnerships are not given the same footing as bids from single providers who tend to be large companies. Not only is this patently unfair on social enterprises, but there is also sense in spreading risk so that one provider is not solely relied upon to deliver on a contract. In recent weeks I was returned as Chair for the APG on Social Enterprise. The first agenda item on my ‘to-do’ list was to seek backing for a Social Value Bill. Unanimous cross-party support was offered, which gives me great hope for the future success of a Bill. However, before a Bill can be further progressed, we need our institutions up and running again, and this is what I call for today.


Education and skills report




Education budget education and skills report

‘wholly insufficient’ Despite being only second to health in the overall allocation, the Department of Education’s budget is “wholly insufficient” to address the significant pressures facing the education sector. At the beginning of 2022, officials from the Department told MLAs that the education sector faces unavoidable significant cost pressures and rising service demands associated with delivering statutory and policy obligations.

welcomed the then-proposed additional funding allocation, “the proposed additional funding allocation is wholly insufficient to address the significant pressures that face the education sector”.

Worryingly, officials attending the Assembly’s Education Committee were speaking in the context of proposed additional funding allocations in the draft budget, which parties failed to agree before the Assembly collapsed.

Friar emphasised that without additional funding, it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for the Department to take forward key actions including the implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, the continued implementation of the Fair Start action plan, future teachers’ pay settlements and recommendations from the independent review of education.

Finance Director for the Department of Education, Gary Friar, told MLAs that while the Department

Departmental non-ring-fenced resource outcome 2021-22 (£ million) Objective and Spending Area Pre-school, primary school and post-primary education Youth and other children’s services Activities to support education Total

Budget 2,068.60 36 240.6 2,345.10 Source: Department of Finance 2021-2022 budget.


In February 2022, following the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA paused the consultation on a draft three-year Executive Budget.

The extent of the significant funding gap likely to occur in the Department’s budget can be seen in that on top of their baseline £2.345 billion, the Department was allocated a further £44.4 million from £127 million of Covid-19 funding given to the Executive and £43.3 million from the January 202122 monitoring round.

In preparation for the draft Budget, in autumn 2021, the Department of Education submitted resource bids to the Department of Finance which assumed a baseline resource DEL of £2,269.6 million. The Department of Education, taking into consideration only those pressures which are inescapable or precommitted, reported an estimated funding gap of £367.03 million for 2022-23, with the gap increasing in subsequent years.

education and skills report

The draft budget, published without cross-party agreement and therefore unlikely to be approved without wide-ranging changes, prioritised an increase in health spending, necessitating a 2 per cent cut from most other departments. However, additional funding arising from an increase in the block grant means that the Department of Education’s allocation was set to rise beyond its 2021-22 budget allocation of £2.345 billion resource departmental expenditure limits (resource DEL) to £2.431 billion in 2022-23, £2.471 billion in 2023-24 and £2.503 billion in 2024-25.

The monitoring round funds broke down to almost £12 million resources pressures such as school maintenance, £18.3 million for SEN pressures and £2.4 million for voluntary exit scheme costs.

Even when considering the 4 per cent increase in resource DEL allocated under the draft Budget for 2022-2023, compared to the previous year, the funding gap was still identified as £204.5 million.

The Assembly’s education committee has previously identified four areas of particular concern in relation to any budgetary gap, namely:

Covid-19 safety and resourcing of schools for continuity in education;

Estimated resource DEL funding gap (£ million) 2022-23









Covid pressures











Baseline General pressures

DE identified funding gap

Source: Correspondence between DE and CFE, November 2021.


education and skills report

First Education Authority review deems authority ‘not effective’ The body responsible for the spending of the vast majority of the education budget has been deemed “ineffective” and “probably underfunded” by the first independent review of the Education Authority.


Decision making in the Education Authority can be characterised by process-driven inflexibility, the independent review, commissioned by the Department of Education found, noting that the most stringent of criticisms came from head teachers and teaching staff who felt as if the Education Authority had left them to work with little guidance other than the following of process. The report found a “general sense that process is more important than supporting a school or principal”.

resourcing requirements for those services.”

Serious concern was also expressed within the report about the levels of funding received by the authority, with an overall budget of £2.322 billion for 2021/22 and a funding gap of £155 million due to a projected spend of £2.477 billion, which would account for 98.95 per cent of the Department of Education’s annual budget. “Ongoing funding gaps and a reliance upon monitoring bids to close these gaps indicates that the organisation is either underfunded or inefficient,” the report states. “It is our view that the EA is probably underfunded for the scale of what it is expected to deliver but that the organisation still has not fully established agreed baseline costs to deliver those services nor the associated

The report does, however, also note that the Education Authority, in its current form is “well aligned with the Programme for Government and the strategic priorities and delivery model are more consistent and sustainable than under the legacy organisations”, that the regional unitary delivery model is “more focused as a service delivery organisation than the legacy education and library boards ELBs”, and that “there is clear evidence emerging of improvements in scope, practices, and culture around governance”. In all, 13 recommendations are made by the review, chief among them the conduction of both internal and external reviews to better define the scope and remit of the

The report found there to be confusion on the part of principals and teachers as to solving problems not covered by official process, but also confusion in the sector at large surrounding the Education Authority’s role as a nondepartmental public body employing over 60,000 people and the broader remit of the authority.

authority and for it to become a more child- and pupil-centric organisation.

Decision making

The decision making within the Authority has also been found to follow these processes to a fault, creating a culture that “provides assurance around the process but not the outcome”, a situation that is further hamstrung by the fact that the Education Authority has not produced fully realised data or information that satisfies tests for currency, appropriateness, or timeliness “to provide assurance that the process in itself is delivering on effective decisions”.

Teachers and principals

Surveys conducted as part of the report found teachers and principals to be unclear as to the role of the Education Authority, with 59 per cent answering that they “do not understand the role or function of EA”, a majority rate but one well below the 92 per cent recorded by parents and pupils. Further, 94 per cent of school principals disagreed when asked if the authority was effective in carrying out maintenance on time, with 76 per cent strongly disagreeing.

A lack of corporate governance was also attested to by principals, with a “transactional not transformational” approach to the Education Authority’s dealings with schools and a lack of clarity as to what was happening outside of senior circles. Principals and the wider education system stated that they found both the authority and the Department of Education to be too far removed from the delivery of education at the coalface and thus “too siloed into their own thinking” and “despite the best will in the world, not child- or pupil-centric because the bureaucratic models created actually take effort and energy away from the child”.

Of the £155.3 million funding gap for 2021/22, £27.7 million will be offset by underspends on schools. The EA’s current budget position is said to be heavily reliant on in-year allocations to manage financial risk, with block grant allocations of £59.7 million, £36.3 million, and £55.2 million given in 2019/20, 2020/21, and 2021/22 respectively through monitoring rounds and internal department exercises. This dependence means that the financial strategy is “unsustainable”.

education and skills report

Decision making in education is seen as “cumbersome and a burden”, with the Education Authority adjudged to be “afraid to make a mistake” and consequently “risk adverse, passive and not progressing at the pace required to effect radical change in the system”. The report notes that the Authority has now put in place a decision-making framework that provides transparency, a “significant improvement”, although the process is noted to be too slow, moving through “innumerate” groups and processes and holding up final decisions.

Funding and resourcing

The report points to more overarching failures of funding for

Recommendations from the Landscape Review of the Education Authority


Conduct an internal review to revisit key aspects of the authority to understand clarity of purpose.


Identify the correct budget for the authority and address resourcing issues.


Conduct an external review in order to determine the future structural model of the authority.


The Education Authority must become more child- and pupil-centric in its approach.


Establish a consistent and effective approach to communication.


Conduct reviews, testing, and refreshment of all front-line services to ensure they are properly resourced.


The Authority must ensure that it has effective and integrated data collation approaches in place.


The Education Authority must embed the emerging organisational development strategy to become a learning organisation.


Roles defined by the new partnership agreement between


education and skills report

Skills shortages impacting profitability, growth and staff wellbeing in Northern Ireland University in Ireland, says: “The skills shortage in Northern Ireland has seen a significant increase over the past year, making it vital for organisations to invest in their workforces through upskilling. This will help with staff retention, as well as the overall output, profitability and growth of businesses.”

The impacts of the skills shortage

Lynsey Quinn

Lisa Nappin

Employers in Northern Ireland are currently being faced with a skills gap, with more than three quarters (83 per cent) reporting a shortage. The Open University’s Business Barometer report (2022) was published in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce and surveyed 144 key employers across Northern Ireland. This statistic has seen a dramatic increase year-on-year, with just over two thirds (69 per cent) of respondents from the 2021 report claiming to have a skills shortage within their organisation.

The Open University’s annual report which provides a temperature check on the UK skills landscape reported that the ongoing skills shortage has worsened over the past year because of factors 72

related to the pandemic, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, and rising business costs.

To resolve the issue, upskilling the workforce is a key solution, with 60 per cent of organisations in Northern Ireland planning to increase investment in staff training over the next year. The talent crisis is set to hit micro-organisations with less than 10 employees the hardest, with only 51 per cent planning to increase investment in staff training in 2023.

John D’Arcy, Director of The Open

As well as impacting the productivity, growth and profitability of an organisation, the increasing skills shortage is also having a detrimental impact on employee wellbeing, with 75 per cent of Northern Ireland organisations highlighting that the issue is causing an increased workload and having a knock-on impact on the mental health of existing employees. In response, nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of organisations in Northern Ireland have implemented some form of written plan around recruitment, training, addressing skills shortages, environmental, social and governance, or diversity and inclusion.

Lynsey Quinn, Senior Manager, Skills and Partnerships for The Open University in Ireland says: “Our Business Barometer report highlights the need for employers to take a long-term strategic approach to addressing the skills gaps and that it's more important than ever to take a proactive view on employees’ skills.

“The report also shows that recruitment is tougher than ever, placing a focus on growing talent from within and opening up opportunities for hidden talent both inside and outside the organisation. Critically, staff seem to be under more pressure than ever looking at last year's report, an increased number of employers admit that the skills shortage is increasing their teams’ workload and impacting wellbeing.”

How The Open University can help: Microcredentials

To help alleviate the skills shortage, The Open University is offering alternative options, given the increased demand for upskilling and reskilling, to meet employer needs in a flexible and timefriendly way.

The Open University’s microcredentials are university level online professional development short courses – allowing learners to quickly build in-demand career skills and knowledge to help them get ahead in their career.

Created by leading Open University academics and endorsed by high profile industry partners, these courses provide a perfect balance of academic excellence and business, workplace and sector relevance. We currently offer a wide range of microcredentials in key areas such as leadership and management, computing and digital technologies, and health and social care. Microcredentials are delivered at degree and postgraduate level and can be completed within 12 weeks.

education and skills report

Lisa Nappin, Head of Business Enterprise, The Business Development Unit adds: “Our survey shows that economic and political factors have had an increased impact on the skills shortage in Northern Ireland. Education plays a vital role in providing a solution to this by relieving pressures on an overstretched workforce.”

“The skills shortage in Northern Ireland has seen a significant increase over the past year, making it vital for organisations to invest in their workforces through upskilling. This will help with staff retention, as well as the overall output, profitability and growth of businesses.” strategy for the future John D’Arcy explains: “Lots of businesses in Northern Ireland are taking the first step towards fixing the skills shortage by encouraging staff to engage with microcredentials that allow employees to pick up skills quickly and effectively.”

The Open University’s modular offering gives organisations an informed choice across a wide range of subject areas. As a leading provider of supported distance learning, The Open University is also able to offer a broad and innovative curriculum which includes flexible, focused and accredited short courses that offer value for money.

Developing a skills

As highlighted in our Business Barometer report, the skills gap is growing year-on-year, impacted by factors beyond the direct control of many employers. Therefore, organisations are becoming more aware of the importance of investing in new learning pathways for their staff to help improve staff wellbeing, as well as increasing growth, profitability and output.

The Skills for a 10X Economy Northern Ireland skills strategy highlights three key policy drivers which are key to the development of the skills agenda including: addressing skills imbalances, strengthening digital learning and developing a culture of lifelong learning. 73

education and skills report

New education framework suggests reform of 14-19 qualifications The “complex” qualifications landscape for 14 to 19 year olds is to be streamlined under plans to better align the education system with the needs of the economy. Developing a More Strategic Approach To 14-19 Education and Training, a new framework proposing greater integration between the Department for the Economy and the Department of Education. highlights feedback from education stakeholders that “the current qualifications landscape is complex, with too many qualifications which are poorly understood”.

The framework alludes to a ‘new vision’ for the education system which makes it work more in line with the needs of the economy of Northern Ireland, and fill skills shortages. 74

“Flexibility, information-handling skills, knowing where work is available, and a commitment to lifelong learning are now essential requirements for entering the world of work in the 21st century,” it states.

In a joint statement, Minister of Education Michelle McIlveen MLA, and Minister for the Economy Gordon Lyons MLA, said they were “confident that this joint framework will help encourage a much closer integration between education and training, and

economic policies”.

education and skills report

The report acknowledges that implementing the suggested framework is “resource dependant”, with a specific amount not as of yet outlined, although it states that the framework cannot be implemented with the current level of spending, as “investment will be required”.

“The resource requirements to take forward some of the actions are significant and, in some instances, will require the establishment of dedicated projects or additional staffing resource,” the report emphasises.

Transition points


The framework defines three key ‘transition points’ for people in education:

In a joint statement, Peter Friel, 14-19 Project Board Principal, Tony Scullion, Education Adviser, CCMS, and Michael Keenan, Director of Education, CCMS said: “Through a more strategic and integrated approach between education, training and the wider economic environment, we can ensure that our young people have access to a curriculum and range of pathways that meet more fully, their personal, interpersonal and career needs and aspirations.”

1. GCSE/Key Stage 4 choices at age 14;

2. Choosing between continuing at school, entering employment, studying an apprenticeship, further education or training at age 16; and

be directed to help address the key challenges identified”. These are:

1. curriculum and qualifications;

2. post-16 provision;

3. careers;

4. awareness and engagement; and

5. 14-19 education and training system. 3. Making similar choices with the additional option of higher education at age 18.

Outlining the wide array of options for young people in education, it also notes that “with multiple options and a complex range of qualifications available there is a need to ensure that young people, their parents and their carers understand and are aware of the full range of options in order to make informed choices about their future”.

Another recommendation is a reform of the qualifications process for the 14-19 age group as, according to the report, “the current qualifications landscape is complex, with too many qualifications which are poorly understood”.

The report continues: “The qualifications landscape needs to be streamlined, accessible and easily understood by young people, their parents and carers and employers.”

Strategic themes The framework calls for an overhaul of the qualifications process and a diversification of the curriculum to meet both the educational needs of young people and the skills demands of the

There are five sets of strategic themes outlined in the report which signal “where emphasis and resources should

These themes are underpinned by supporting actions which provide detail as to what activities need to be initiated and progressed over the short-, medium-, and long-term to ensure the overarching objectives and outcomes are achieved.

With regards to the curriculum and qualifications, the framework says that the departments must “build awareness and understanding of the Northern Ireland Curriculum and refresh the focus on skills”.

For careers, there will be a review of the model of careers education delivery and 75

New political composition of the Education Authority education and skills report

There have been four changes in the political makeup of the Education Authority board following May’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections. The board is made up of 20 members, eight of whom are political nominees. The membership is allocated using the D’Hondt method. This allocated three seats to Sinn Féin (no change), two to the Democratic Unionist Party (down one), two to the Alliance Party – who had previously been unrepresented – and one for the Ulster Unionist Party (no change). The SDLP lost their sole seat on the board.

Education Authority: Political board members

Angela Mervyn (Re-appointed)

Nominated by: Sinn Féin

About: Education programmes manager of the West Belfast Partnership Board. She is a director in the Upper Andersonstown Community Forum, a member of the Belfast City Council Community Planning Working and Learning Board and

Mervyn Storey (Newly appointed)

Nominated by: Democratic Unionist Party

About: DUP councillor and former MLA for North Antrim and chairperson of the board of governors of William Pinkerton Memorial Primary School and a member of board of governors of Ballymoney High School. Storey lost his seat

Rachael Ferguson (Newly appointed)

Nominated by: Alliance Party

About: Alliance Councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council. She is a member of the Alliance Party, vice-chairperson of NILGA Health, Social and Environmental Wellbeing Network and a member of the board of governors of


John Kyle (Newly appointed)

Nominated by: Ulster Unionist Party

About: Ulster Unionist councillor on the Belfast City Council. Former deputy leader of the PUP. He left the PUP in December 2021 and became a member of the UUP in February 2022, canvassing for them during the recent Assembly

education and skills report

Frank Maskey (Re-appointed)

Nominated by: Sinn Féin

About: Former principal of Corpus Christi College, Belfast and former vice principal of St Patrick’s College, Belfast. Prior to these positions he was a lecturer in mechanical engineering. He is also a member of the board of

Jonathan Craig (Newly appointed)

Nominated by: Democratic Unionist Party

About: Former Mayor of Lisburn City Council, a former MLA and member of the education committee. He is a DUP member of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council and a school governor in two schools across both the primary and

Stephen Donnelly (Newly appointed)

Nominated by: Alliance Party

About: Alliance member of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, member of the board of directors of Omagh Enterprise Company, political member of both the Fermanagh and Omagh PCSP and the Omagh Neighbourhood Renewal

Paul Kavanagh (Re-appointed)

Nominated by: Sinn Féin

About: Currently employed by the Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation and served as special adviser to the former deputy First Minister. He is a member of the board of governors of Lumen Christi College, Derry.


education and skills report

Skills supply gap faces ‘stigma’ challenge Moves to address a predicted annual shortfall of some 2,000 level four and level five qualifications over the next decade are not being aided by a societal ‘stigma’ around vocational qualifications. Covering things like apprenticeships, higher national diplomas (HNDs), professional qualifications and national vocational qualifications (NVQs), level four and level five qualifications sit between A-levels and an undergraduate degree and have been identified as areas of undersupply in ambitions to rebalance the economy.

In March 2022, the Northern Ireland Skills Barometer 2021 update highlighted that overall demand for skills is set to outstrip supply, with the most significant undersupply to be found at levels three to five and an annual shortfall of 1,900 level four and level five qualifiers over the next decade. Specific fields identified for significant shortages include health,


public services and care, engineering and manufacturing technologies, finance, and law.

Declining enrolments, evidently exacerbated by the pandemic, and the forecasted undersupply of labour market skills at levels four and five had prompted a wider review into the higher education provision in further education by the Department for the Economy (DfE). As part of the review, the Department commissioned research looking at perceptions of level four and five qualifications in Northern Ireland.

The review identified a social stigma stopping some young people taking vocational qualifications, instead

favouring a university degree.

Parents’ preferred study/employment path for child

Current learners and tutors highlighted a range of positive experiences ranging from perceived high levels of skills development and strong links to employers to lower costs and greater accessibility of the qualifications. Similarly, employers interviewed about higher level apprentices described a mutual benefit to employers and apprentices, and benefits of a supportive and pastoral learning environment.

However, the findings also reveal the existence of a “culturally perpetuated stigma of failing to get into university”, and wider social misconceptions that level four and five qualifications were not viable options due to the perceptions that they would not get students far enough or were unlikely to be able to lead to secure, future employment. As a result, study in further education college is often seen as a plan B, compared to going to university.

education and skills report

Despite feedback from current level four and five learners finding courses to be “attractive, useful and valuable”, outside of the FE/CAFRE sectors, levels of awareness and understanding of level four and five qualifications are “patchy” and “often very low”.

Source: Perception of level four and level five qualifications in Northern Ireland. DfE.

vocational education and training more generally", the research adds that this less favourable comparison and inevitable societal stigma “appears to be reinforced both at school, by peers and teachers and at home by family or parents”.

The research reveals “limited” knowledge about level four and five qualifications including low levels of awareness and understanding of level four and five entry requirements and the subjects offered by not only prospective learners but also by parents/carers and teachers.

existing lack of awareness and understanding includes:

the proliferation of qualifications;

terminology leading to confusion;

the absence of a centralised application and admissions system, similar to the UCAS system for university admissions;

inconsistent and inadequate careers information in some schools; and

A range of issues identified for this The significance of the existing stigma around vocational education can be seen not only in the need to bridge the skill supply gap for the future, but also by the fact that trends which have led to an imbalance appear to be accelerating further. In 2020 and 2021, Northern Ireland recorded its highest rates of school leavers entering university, coinciding with a fall in the number of school leavers entering further education colleges.

Highlighting a "widespread preference for university-based study (over FE) and an enduring stigma surrounding

Research feedback on perceptions of level four and level five qualifications:

DfE careers advisor: “The focus of schools is university. The level fours and fives are generally seen as a back-up, plan B. By the end of it, they're exhausted, they've done UCAS. That's all they've been doing for nearly a year. So, trying to get them out into college is... it's hard for them to consider that.”

FE curriculum lead: “A lot of parents want the prestige of their son or daughter going to university. Whereas, if a student chooses to go to a local further education college, there’s the perception that maybe it's beneath them.”


education and skills report

SEN demand outstripping places Almost 100 pupils with statements of special educational needs (SEN) are awaiting re-placement in the education system, as the Education Authority (EA) struggles to meet growing demand of SEN pupils. As of 5 July, a total of 103 pupils with a statement of SEN were without a school place for the academic year 2022/23 but a further 98 SEN pupils, with a secured place in the new academic year, have been recommended for a change of placement following annual review of their statement, to better suit their needs.

According to an Education Authority strategic area plan for special education provision, the number of pupils accessing a placement in a special school has jumped by 26.4 per cent in the last five years, while in the same timeframe, a 24 per cent increase has been recorded in the number of pupils accessing a placement in specialist provision within


mainstream schools.

Comparatively, for pupils in mainstream education (without a SEN statement), there are 68 pupils without a confirmed school placement, although 64 of these were due to having not been nominated to a particular school by their parents. This is out of a total mainstream education population of 236,766.

According to the Department of Education, there are 64,486 pupils with special educational needs. This figure includes the 22,198 students with a SEN statement. The EA additionally confirmed that there are 12,840

Placement challenges The EA stated that there are 4,411 new pupils with a SEN statement who have sought a school place ahead of the new academic year. These pupils include ones entering school for the first time, and those who have been in education and have only recently acquired a SEN statement.

There are 40 special schools in Northern Ireland, with specialist provision provided in 976 mainstream primary and post-primary schools. The EA projects that the number of SEN statemented pupils could increase by a further 25 per cent by 2030.

The EA’s Planning for Special Education Provision: Strategic Area Plan 2022-27 report has outlined the framework to meet the increasing demands of the special education sector, which will be framed by: increasing parity of access for all to appropriate pathways; promoting cooperation, collaboration and sharing between all special schools and specialist provision in mainstream schools across all sectors; maximising resources and capacity; and informing strategic infrastructure planning and investment.

Increase in SEN pupils

education and skills report

pupils with a statement who have not enrolled in a special school or have specialist provision in a mainstream school.

Despite the placement crisis, the Education Authority confirmed that there are “five or less” pupils with a SEN statement who are entering school for the first time or “at a key transition point”.

The pressure in the special education sector is coming amid the sharp increase in pupils with a SEN statement which follows reforms since 2020, when an internal audit found that there had been “unnecessary and undue delays” in the statutory assessment and statementing process, with additional concerns raised about the security of confidential information about children held by the EA.

As a consequence, the number of pupils with a SEN statement has increased by 33 per cent since the 2015/2016 academic year.

Figures from the Department of Education show that there are 57,833 pupils with SEN needs being educated within mainstream schools, 55,128 of which have no specialist provision within these schools.

Additionally, in spite of the fact that pupils with a SEN statement only account for 6.3 per cent of the pupil population, 15 per cent of homeschooled pupils, known to the EA, had a SEN statement in the past academic year.

The Planning for Special Education Provision: Strategic Area Plan 2022-27 report outlines that: “In the last five years, there has been a


education and skills report

Integrated Education Act: An important first step Kellie Armstrong MLA’s Integrated Education Act has placed the initiative on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the growth of integrated education in Northern Ireland. The Act was not without its opponents, with the DUP and TUV attempting to use the petition of concern in the Assembly to block its passage. The Ulster Unionist Party additionally opposed the bill but refused to make use of the petition of concern, thus allowing its passage into an act.

Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party, and People Before Profit all voted in favour, in spite of criticism from SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan that the legislation “has a lot of problems.”

The Act defines integrated education as: “Education together, in an integrated school, of; (a) those of different cultures and religious beliefs and of none, including reasonable


numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children or young persons; (b) those who are experiencing socioeconomic deprivation and those who are not; and (c) those of different abilities.”

Schools undergoing the ballot initiative process:

• It further defines an integrated school as “a school which; (a) intentionally supports, protects, and advances an ethos of diversity, respect and understanding between those of different cultures and religious beliefs and of none, between those of different socio-economic backgrounds and between those of different abilities, and (b) has acquired: (1) grant-maintained integrated status; or (2) controlled integrated status under the Education Reform Order”.

Straid Primary School, near Ballyclare

St Anne’s Primary School, Donaghadee

Sion Mills Primary School

Gillygooley Primary School, Omagh

“My hope is that integration will soon become the norm and not the exception in schools across Northern Ireland. The work done by the IEF and NICIE is essential in helping Northern Ireland’s children to grow up in a truly shared society.” education and skills report

Former Secretary of State Brandon Lewis MP The Act places an onus on the Education Authority (EA) to encourage and facilitate, “in line with the powers conferred upon it”, the transition for schools into an integrated or ‘shared education’ model.

Eugene’s Primary School, Tircur (near Omagh), and Lurgan Model Primary School. There are a further four schools that have undergone the ballot initiative, and are pending approval from the Minister for Education, or are awaiting further developments.

The transition process Section 8 of the Act stipulates that education bodies “must consider” integrated education when planning the establishment of a new school.

This process requires a consultation with teachers, governors, pupils, families, and sectoral and community bodies, as well as an assessment of the demand for integrated education in the area where the proposed school is to be built.

Following the consultation process, and the submission of a transformation action plan, the final decision lies with the Minister of Education, the DUP’s Michelle McIlveen MLA who, despite her party’s opposition to the Act, has facilitated the transformation of six schools.

The Act does not place an onus on existing schools to transition away from their traditional models, with further exemptions for new proposed Irishmedium schools.

In the month of June, four schools held ballots over whether to transition to an integrated model, these were: St Eugene’s Primary School, Strabane, Magherafelt Nursery School, St

Since the passage of the Act, the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) confirmed that two schools have completed the transformation process and adopted integrated policies, which will come into effect for the new school term.

Going forward The IEF has set a target of reaching 100 integrated academic institutions by the year 2025. Should the transformation of all the schools who have successfully completed the balloting process be confirmed, the number of integrated schools will stand at 73.

In Brandon Lewis MP’s last act as Secretary of State before his resignation on 7 June, he announced £1.9 million in funding for the Integrated Education Fund.

Lewis said on 6 June: “My hope is that integration will soon become the norm and not the exception in schools across Northern Ireland. The work done by the IEF and NICIE is essential in helping Northern Ireland’s children to grow up in a truly shared society.”

The £1.9 million will go to the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education


education and skills report

Finding a school place becoming “increasingly difficult” for refugee children A report on the impact of Brexit on newcomer children has outlined challenges for non-English speaking children in the education system in Northern Ireland. Finding a school place has become “increasingly difficult predominantly due a lack of physical capacity” for many refugee children.

Amid the significant increase in the number of refugees, the report identifies particular challenges for schools in meeting the learning needs of newcomer pupils; many of whom have had protracted breaks in their education. Pupils, who have experienced an interrupted education, are often entering schools at an educational baseline several years behind their peers in addition to any language related challenges.

The challenges which have arisen from Brexit, as well as the Afghan refugee crisis, have exacerbated a range of issues for newcomer


pupils in accessing education, including low school readiness; language barriers; issues accessing the curriculum, and the breadth of differentiation needed to support learning for newcomer and other pupils.

With the increasing number of refugees from Afghanistan, as well as the incoming refugees from Ukraine via the respective resettlement schemes, it is likely that the pressures on the education system will be exacerbated going forward.

The report outlines that “schools have identified a lack of resources/funding/support to help meet the specific needs of these pupils, which include low levels of language proficiency, educational

interruption and possible impact of trauma”.

There are nine times as many newcomer children in non-grammar schools than are in grammar schools. This in spite of the fact that grammar schools make up over one third of all schools in Northern Ireland.

Newcomer children account for roughly five per cent of all pupils in Northern Ireland.

Whilst the number of newcomer children in Northern Ireland in the 2021/22 academic year was 4,400 more than 2016/17, and net migration into Northern Ireland remains steady, there has been a notable decline in arrivals from the European Union, with an increase in arrivals from outside the EU.

Between 2016 and 2020, there was a 73 per cent decrease in arrivals from Poland, a 57 per cent decrease in arrivals from Romania, and a 62 per cent decrease in arrivals from Lithuania. Simultaneously, there were five times as many

Overall, the number of immigrants remained fairly even in the period of 2016 to 2020, but the decline in EU arrivals and increase in arrivals from non-EU states suggests that Brexit has impacted EU citizens’ desire to move to Northern Ireland. This is in spite of the fact that the new points-based immigration system had not yet come into effect.

education and skills report

Impact of Brexit on newcomer children

arrivals from Zimbabwe in 2020 compared with 2016.

This is a trend which is emulated in the UK as a whole, where there has been a 58 per cent decline in EU migration between 2016 and 2020 and a doubling of non-EU migration in the same time period.

Asylum seekers and refugees

The number of asylum seekers receiving support increased by 56 per cent in the year 2021 compared to 2020, amid the Afghan refugee crisis, with further pressure expected amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Refugee and asylum seeking children are


people agenda

Parr’s Ireland:

From the Pope to a flat white

One of the pre-eminent photographers of his generation, documentary photographer Martin Parr talks to Owen McQuade about his Parr’s Ireland exhibition which accompanies his latest book Parr’s Ireland: From the Pope to a flat white and his work photographing the Irish over the last 40 years.


people agenda

people agenda

Martin Parr started travelling to Ireland in the 1970s to visit a friend who had studied photography with him at Manchester Polytechnic. He then came back in 1979 to document the Pope’s visit and then moved to near Boyle in County Roscommon because of his wife’s job as a speech therapist. “We had a fantastic time in Ireland. All the black and white photos in the book are from that period – except the Pope’s visit photos. I would get the local paper and go to all the local events from horse fairs to small auctions and céilithe.” Parr has been back to Ireland since then returning several times and shooting in colour. To finish the book off, he decided to come over to Dublin to photograph “the new businesses in the upgraded and gentrified Dublin. Hence the flat white as a symbol of the gentrification”.

people agenda


people agenda

The book compares “the almost naivety of the Pope’s visit in 1979 with the amazing economic advancement that Ireland has gained since then”. When asked has he seen similar changes in Britain, he replies: “Things have changed globally, with things like the smart phone that has changed many societies across the world but nothing as dramatic as Ireland. “I can not think of a country that has changed so much in that 40-year period. Ireland is almost unique on the planet for having seen that amount of change.”


people agenda

people agenda

Parr’s Ireland: 40 Years of Photography Exhibition 4 August to 24 September at Belfast Exposed This is a landmark retrospective of the Irish work of esteemed British documentary photographer, Martin Parr. The exhibition has been touring since 2021 and has been to Limerick City Art Gallery, Gallery of Photography Dublin, Roscommon Arts Centre, The McMullen Museum of Art, Boston and will be in the Belfast Exposed Gallery from 4 August to 24 September 2022 before moving onto the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris. The Belfast Exposed exhibition includes a curated special edition of the collection, that includes work commissioned to focus on Northern Ireland specifically. “We are absolutely delighted to be showing this unique and thought provoking retrospective from Martin Parr, a photographer of real cultural and historical significance. For four decades, Parr's work in Ireland has documented society in transition and his unique perspective on the everyday provides an evocative experience for viewers...” Deirdre Robb, CEO of Belfast Exposed.

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public affairs agenda

David Trimble: ‘A man in a hurry’ politics, although those close to him recount the ease at which he headed meetings and his comfort in strategically directing others. He studied law at Queen’s University Belfast, qualifying as a barrister before joining the university’s staff, initially as a law lecturer but moving on to become Assistant Dean of Law, a senior lecturer, and, finally, head of the department of commercial and property law. Trimble would retain his links to the university as an honorary graduate and professor. He entered politics at a relative extreme, finding a home in the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, a hard-line splinter from the UUP, led by William Craig, with links to loyalist paramilitaries, and which was initially wholly opposed to powersharing with nationalists. When the party disintegrated in 1977, Trimble, the opportunist, quietly joined the UUP and quickly declared his interest in the UUP’s MP seat for Upper Bann, vacated through the death of Harold McCusker in 1989.

Described as a man with whom no one had an easy working relationship, David Trimble’s leadership style may have been somewhat unorthodox but secured a legacy of peace in Northern Ireland; an opportunity he was not going to let pass him by.


Staunchly opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement, the 1974 power-sharing proposal of the British and Irish governments, David Trimble cut a political figure few would have believed would collect a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland over two decades later.

Agreement as “Sunningdale for slow learners”. Ultimately though, the potential impact of a power-sharing agreement was not lost on the former academic. Indeed, Trimble’s switch from wrecker to worker of power-sharing can be boiled down to his desire to ensure his was a legacy remembered.

The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon once famously described the Good Friday

Born in Bangor, County Down, Trimble’s early career trajectory was not towards

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Ideologically and politically steadfast in his own outlook, Trimble clashed with then-party leader James Molyneaux, who favoured integration over devolution. Trimble’s involvement in contentious Orange Order parades, particularly the Drumcree stand-off, and images of him hand-in-hand with the late Ian Paisley on Carleton Street, Portadown, boosted his popularity amongst grassroots unionists and saw him elevated to party leader in 1995. Conversely, it became a defining image which ossified in nationalist public memory. Trimble, to many people’s surprise, almost immediately used his position of power to initiate discussions with his political opponents. Having witnessed cycles of violence and been involved in peace talks for over two decades, the UUP leader wanted his leadership to be one remembered as making a difference, but not at any cost. He maintained an arm’s length relationship with the SDLP’s John Hume and although recognised as the first unionist leader since the 1920s to

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negotiate with Sinn Féin, Trimble refused to speak directly to Gerry Adams for almost a year of the talks process. It was not until 2000 that he shook his hand. Channelled towards a deal by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Trimble pushed through opposition, much of which came from within his own party, to drive unionism’s support of the Good Friday Agreement, a stance which would later be recognised as political suicide. David Kerr began working with Trimble in spring 1996, originally as a personal assistant but rising to Director of Communications in a short space of time, before being officially registered as a SPAD in June 1998. He describes Trimble as a “complicated” character. “He was a difficult person to work with because he was so driven and so intelligent. Ideologically, and politically, he knew what he wanted to do and he had very strong views on what needed to be done in this country to get a settlement,” recounts Kerr. “He had been in and around political initiatives in the 70s and 80s, seeing them crash and burn and he knew that when he got the opportunity to be leader in 1995, he had to make the best of it and go for it. “He was a man in a hurry, a man who had huge levels of personal energy, and a man who was very, very work focused. He was a seven-days-a week man because he knew that it was a business in which you had to move decisively, and you had to move quickly.” Kerr expresses an opinion – one that many unionists have now come to believe – that despite opposition at the time and since, the Good Friday Agreement represented a good deal for unionism. Trimble was extremely principled and, through the three strands, achieved his primary objectives of securing the consent principle and devolution; amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution; establishing northsouth cooperation in a way that did not threaten unionism; and establishing British-Irish institutions. However, Trimble struggled under the

campaign of opposition led by the more charismatic Ian Paisley. Areas of intense contention such as policing, decommissioning, and prisoner releases were seized upon by the populist opportunists of that era, who were able to exploit the emotion around those subjects, meaning that the constitutional benefits secured by Trimble were often overlooked. “David was not a natural communicator in the sense of a populist activist,” says Kerr, adding: “He was not someone who would stand on a soapbox and captivate a crowd with populist rhetoric in the way that Ian Paisley could. He did not do small talk but that was his style. When it came to writing a speech or an article, invariably he would want to write out a list of points he felt needed made and he did not have any time for colour or flamboyance.” Kerr expresses his respect for Trimble who, despite having achieved his political and constitutional objectives through the Good Friday Agreement, projected the future political obstacles associated with policing and decommissioning. “We had to break the cycle of failed talks initiatives and renewed violence and David knew that. We had a decision to make, and we decided that there would not be a better deal politically and constitutionally.” Despite his Nobel Peace Prize

recognition and his position as First Minister, Trimble’s leadership faltered under increased pressure from Paisley, as well as delayed action on decommissioning by the Provisional IRA, an area in which Trimble felt Blair and Ahern had failed to apply appropriate pressure and honour their previous commitments. In 2005, following a series of Assembly suspensions and a disastrous Westminster election, where he lost his own seat and from which the party has still not recovered electorally, Trimble resigned as leader, citing that Blair and Ahern had indulged republicans and given them too much time. He was quickly elevated to the House of Lords, joining the Conservatives shortly after. Prior to his death, Trimble had been a vocal opponent of the Northern Ireland Protocol, believing that it undermined the Good Friday Agreement. Mourners at his funeral on 1 August 2022 heard how he was a man of “considerable strength of character and integrity” who “saved many lives and allowed a generation to grow up in relative peace”. He is survived by his wife Daphne, daughters Victoria and Sarah and sons Richard and Nicholas.

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Assembly co-optees: 96 per cent re-election rate Often criticised as an exploitation of MLA replacement rules, results from the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election show that the co-option of MLAs has a highly successful conversion rate for those individuals when seeking election. In May’s Assembly elections, there were 23 MLAs fighting for election who had been co-opted into Stormont during the previous mandate. With the exception of the Green Party’s Rachel Woods, who had been co-opted in to replace former leader Steven Agnew, all of these candidates managed to be re-elected.


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Co-options in the last mandate

and that most of these MLAs invariably

In the last mandate, there were four MLAs who were co-opted in and then left before the end of the mandate. These were Catherine Kelly, Karen Mullan, Martina Anderson (all from Sinn Féin) and Máire Hendron from the Alliance Party. Indeed, Hendron, who was co-opted in whilst party leader Naomi Long MLA served in the European Parliament, spent seven months as an MLA, but, since the Assembly was not functioning, never actually sat in a committee or took part in a debate for the entire duration of her spell in Stormont.

become popular with their constituents.

The DUP’s Paul Rankin, who also never

This 96 per cent re-election rate of coopted members shows that, in spite of the common criticism levelled towards the co-option process, that it is a successful means of entering Stormont,

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Assembly by co-option. The only independent MLA, East Londonderry’s Claire Sugden, also initially entered the Assembly by co-option. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson MP was elected as an MLA for Lagan Valley in May’s election, only to resign from this role after just one week, being replaced by Emma Little-Pengelly MLA, in order to continue as a Westminster MP. Little-Pengelly, a former MLA for Belfast South, now represents Lagan Valley, the former constituency of Edwin Poots, who was himself co-opted to serve as an MLA for Belfast South following the death of Christopher Stalford. By gender, there is little to split the makeup of the MLAs who arrived by cooption, although there is a slight male majority. 53 per cent of MLAs who arrived in the Assembly by co-option were men.

New MLAs Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey became Minister for Communities only two days after being co-opted as an MLA for Belfast South.

took part in the business of the Assembly, only sat as an MLA for two weeks, having replaced Edwin Poots MLA in Lagan Valley. In the last mandate, there were 29 cooptions overall, 58 per cent of which were from nationalist parties, with 21 per cent from unionist parties and 17 per cent from the ‘other’ designation. The Ulster Unionist Party were the only of the executive parties not to have had any cooptions during the last mandate. Sinn Féin accounted for 13 of the 29 cooptions whilst the DUP were just behind them with 10 co-options. Two of the co-optees, Deirdre Hargey from Sinn Féin, and Diane Dodds from the DUP, ended up serving in the Northern Ireland Executive as Minister for Communities and Minister for the Economy respectively. Nine incumbent MLAs lost their seats in May’s elections, but only one of these was co-opted in, and none of the ‘big five’ party’s MLAs lost their seats.

May’s Assembly elections saw the election of 16 first-time MLAs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the party’s surge, 69

Co-optees in the Assembly

per cent of these new MLAs were elected for the Alliance Party, with 19 per cent

Of the 90 MLAs elected to the current Assembly, 32 of them entered having been co-opted into Stormont, which accounts for 36 per cent of MLAs. 36 per cent of MLAs entered the Assembly having not been elected.

from the DUP and 13 per cent from Sinn

Only two of the 18 constituencies represented in the Assembly, Belfast North and South Down, are completely represented by MLAs who were not coopted, with five constituencies, West Tyrone, Foyle, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Belfast West and Belfast South, having a majority of MLAs who were coopted into the Assembly.

men, and 96 per cent of new MLAs were

48 per cent of Sinn Féin’s current crop of MLAs were initially co-opted, with 40 per cent of the DUP’s 25 MLAs having also been co-opted. 18 per cent of the Alliance Party’s MLAs were co-opted, and 50 per cent of the SDLP’s MLAs were co-opted. 11 per cent of the Ulster Unionist Party’s MLAs entered the

Féin. All MLAs who were elected for the Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP, TUV, People Before Profit and as independents, were incumbent MLAs. 63 per cent of these new MLAs were elected in constituencies east of the Bann. This is unsurprising, given the Alliance party’s comparative strength east of the Bann, compared with the west. The new MLAs were as follows: Danny Baker, Cathy Mason (both from Sinn Féin), Philip Brett, Brian Kingston and Alan Robinson (all from the DUP), Patrick Brown, Danny Donnelly, Sorcha Eastwood, Connie Egan, David Honeyford, Peter McReynolds, Nick Mathison, Nuala McAllister, Kate Nichol, Patricia O’Lynn and Eóin Tennyson (all from the Alliance Party).

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The Protocol, the Prime Minister, and prospects for Irish unity The careers of Conservative Party prime ministers have been among the many casualties of Brexit, write Mary C Murphy (UCC) and Jonathan Evershed (UCD), authors of A Troubled Constitutional Future: Northern Ireland after Brexit published by Agenda Publishing in March 2022.


In Northern Ireland, ongoing uncertainty in relation to the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol; the British Government’s plans to proceed with the highly contested Northern Ireland Protocol Bill; and the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive have all added to an existing atmosphere of instability and volatility. This state of unsettledness has also influenced and facilitated a growing discourse about the prospects for Irish unity. Some see Irish unification as the organic and inevitable outcome of Brexit’s legacy while others reject and oppose this prospect.

intensifying cost of living crisis – but the Protocol issue and the “Irish question” will also loom large. Although the potential for a constitutional rupture exists, there is no guarantee that profound constitutional transformation is inevitable. However, how Truss navigates the period ahead will have a bearing on the strength and intensity of the evolving constitutional debate in Ireland: her decisions and actions on the Protocol will influence how different political parties, civic society movements and future Irish governments position themselves on the Irish unity question.

The Prime Minister Liz Truss MP faces urgent challenges – not least a rapidly

For its part, the British Government does not support calling a border poll and this

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will not change. Successive Conservative governments have sought to assert an increasingly muscular form of unionism which has been alienating not just for nationalists in Northern Ireland, but across Scotland and Wales too. Further British Government action on the Protocol may serve to either reduce or reinforce wider calls for a border poll and constitutional change in Ireland. Should Truss oversee the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill becoming law, the EU will likely retaliate with (further) court proceedings against the UK. In this context, the prospects of a bitter and damaging trade war between the UK and the EU cannot be discounted. Such a move would be highly damaging politically and economically, and likely intensify calls among nationalists for constitutional change. Critically, it may also sway otherwise undecided voters in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A related factor here is the poor level of trust between the British and Irish governments. This has undermined the bilateral relationship and upended what had previously become a more consensus-based approach to Northern Ireland. If Truss chooses to work to address the challenges facing British/Irish relations (most of them concentrated around the Protocol) in a spirit of meaningful collaboration, this bodes well for restoring an atmosphere of cooperation and consensus, which has historically been critical to stability in Northern Ireland. If not, the push for constitutional change may well intensify. The current Irish Government has ruled out supporting a border poll in the short to medium term. Instead, Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD has ploughed money and commitment into his department’s Shared Island Initiative. Its emphasis is less on constitutional change, and more on supporting the full operation of the 1998 Agreement. Importantly however, the next Irish Government – particularly one that might be led by Sinn Féin – is likely to take a different and stronger position on the border question. Unionists in Northern Ireland are utterly

Mary C Murphy opposed to a border poll and are loath to even discuss or consider the question. Instead, unionism has remained resolutely focused on resisting the Protocol, which they see as undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the union, and on supporting the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. How Truss engages with unionism on the Protocol issue will be consequential, and not just for unionism but for all in Northern Ireland. A more considered position on, and a more inclusive approach to, the Protocol which takes note of all swathes of opinion in Northern Ireland may temper calls for an intensification of the Irish unity debate. The third force in Northern Ireland politics – that which is classified as ‘other’ and is neither unionist nor nationalist in outlook – is also reticent about a referendum on Irish unity. This political category includes the Alliance Party, a party which has been gradually increasing its electoral appeal and is now the third largest political party in Northern Ireland after Sinn Féin and the DUP. Alliance does not take a position on the constitutional question. However, it is Northern Ireland’s ‘others’ who will be decisive in shaping the future direction of the constitutional debate in Ireland. Alliance supporters are more malleable on the constitutional question than are committed nationalists and unionists. How Truss deals with Northern Ireland and the interests of this constituency may prove critical in directing the nascent constitutional debate.

Jonathan Evershed Sinn Féin is spearheading calls for a border poll. For many nationalists, the chaotic manner in which the British Government has managed Northern Ireland interests since the Brexit vote, has been a decisive factor in swaying them towards more serious and more immediate contemplation of an altered constitutional future. Brexit has also precipitated the emergence of civil society groups including Shared Ireland, Think32, and others actively pushing for a border poll. This cohort is already focused on the achievement of a new constitutional future, and regardless of the actions of Truss, is unlikely to backtrack on its push for constitutional change. Importantly, however, for all the unsettledness which Brexit has created in Northern Ireland, it has not led to the emergence of majority support for constitutional change. Despite important shifts in public opinion flowing from Brexit, opinion polls continue to suggest a majority in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. It is not clear, therefore, that the UK vote to leave the EU will inevitably lead to a new constitutional settlement for the island of Ireland. What is clear however, is that Truss and how she deals with the Protocol issue will be a critical factor influencing the direction of the constitutional debate.

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The Brexit ‘power grab’ In August 2022, the then-Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi meets HMRC staff at Erskine House, the UK Government Hub in Belfast.

A new Whitehall department, quietly set up in Northern Ireland to manage the international trade implications of Brexit, will bypass devolved decision-making and Executive accountability in its spending. The UK Government’s Department for International Trade (DIT), which describes its new office in Belfast as “a new government department in Northern Ireland”, became operational in March 2022 and plans to have up to 75 staff located in Belfast by 2030. It is one of four similar offices being established across the UK, following an announcement by then-UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss MP in 2021, with others in Darlington, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. The UK Internal Market Act, signed into law in December 2020, centralised powers previously exercised in Brussels to Whitehall, rather than dividing them up to the devolved nations.


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“We can’t have a system of direct rule lite where London ministers ignore the priorities of people and parties here to pursue budget busting sea bridges or tunnels and ignore our real needs.” Former Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Critics argued that the move represented a ‘power grab’ and an attempt to roll back on devolution, stressing that any responsibility which is not specifically reserved should automatically pass to the devolved administrations. The UK Government claims the move was necessary to preserve economic exchanges. However, the move comes at a time when the union has never been more fragile, with pushes for Scottish independence and Irish unity. It is arguable that the UK Government wants new major spending initiatives to be seen as centrally driven, and as a benefit of the union. In March 2021, the UK Government touted that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (now called Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) was to open an office in Belfast. At the time, then-Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon described the move as the “latest step in dismantling devolution and removing power from local people here”. Mallon was joined by counterparts in both Scotland and Wales in raising concerns that the setting up of a Whitehall office in Northern Ireland, with unilateral spending powers, undermined the core principle of devolution. “We can’t have a system of direct rule lite where London ministers ignore the priorities of people and parties here to pursue budget busting sea bridges or tunnels and ignore our real needs,” she said at the time. Opting against a Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, however, the Government have instead installed the

Department of International Trade, which it says is dedicated to bringing more investment, high-value jobs, and export opportunities to the whole of Northern Ireland. The Internal Markets Act enables a UK Minister to provide “financial assistance for economic development etc”, out of money provided by Parliament, to a whole range of economic areas including infrastructure, housing, health facilities, and for economic development. This means that UK officials will have power to invest centralised levelling-up funding without the need for sign off from devolved assemblies or ministers. In their annual report, published in July 2022, the Department of International Trade said that their future focus was for further expansion of trade and investment hubs in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland: “Contributing to strengthening the union and levelling up by continuing to ensure equivalent access to DIT services for businesses across the nations and enhance local business knowledge of our FTA programme and trade policy.” The Department is based in Erskine House on Belfast’s Chichester Street, which from February 2022 is also home to the Northern Ireland Office. Described as the UK Government Hub in Belfast city centre, Erskine House is expected to host over 22,000 civil service roles moved out of London by 2030. Alongside DIT and the NIO, Erskine House is also home to other UK Government departments including HMRC and the Competitions and Marketing Authority.

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Dáil Reform Committee says no to northern Oireachtas representation Seamus Mallon, Austin Currie, and Ian Marshall are just three examples of how the Seanad has often been used as a means by successive Irish governments to give a platform to political voices from the North. However, whether at committee level or in the chambers of the Seanad or the Dáil, politicians elected in Northern Ireland are not granted any formal speaking rights in the Oireachtas. The Committee for Dáil Reform voted down a motion which would have granted MPs and MLAs from Northern Ireland speaking rights in special committees in the Oireachtas. Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, who hails from east Belfast, expressed his disappointment after a vote in June 2022 which failed to attract sufficient support to allow politicians from Northern Ireland to take part in special committees in the Oireachtas, stating in the Seanad that, “a shared island has to mean a shared Oireachtas”. The former Lord Mayor of Belfast was calling for politicians elected in Northern Ireland to be given a right to speak and sit in committees which do not vote on legislation.


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“Let us look at what special committees do. Autism is an issue that is very important to many of us in the house and we raise it regularly. It is an issue that affects families throughout Ireland. The all-Ireland autism centre is based in Armagh,” he emphasised. This is not the first time a motion to invite Northern politicians has been struck down by the Oireachtas. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern proposed a motion which would have allowed northern MPs and MLAs the right to speak in the Dáil back in 2005, only for the motion to be defeated amid opposition from Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats, the Socialist Party, and some of his Fianna Fáil

backbenchers. The former Taoiseach did succeed in ensuring that northern politicians could partake in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, albeit as guests. Indeed, Sinn Féin MPs Mickey Brady and Michelle Gildernew, and Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry recently took part in a debate in this committee. Sinn Féin and the SDLP have both consistently supported introducing speaking rights for Northern MLAs and MPs in the Oireachtas, in both chambers as well at committee level. Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has also expressed support.


Credit: The Irish News

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Jim Fitzpatrick 1929-2022 Jim Fitzpatrick, as chair of The Irish News, played an unassuming yet crucial role in journalism and political life in Northern Ireland. Aged 92, Fitzpatrick’s life spanned the entirety of ‘the Troubles’ and the peace process. Having entered the seminary with the intention of becoming a Redemptorist priest, Fitzpatrick changed his mind and qualified as a solicitor, where he worked for the family law firm in College Square North in Belfast.

others at Clonard Monastery proved to be a crucial factor in efforts to establish dialogue between John Hume and Gerry Adams, talks which would become the crucial building blocks of the Good Friday Agreement.

The outbreak of ‘the Troubles’ heightened Fitzpatrick’s interest in journalism and public affairs, motivating him to enrol in a nightcourse in journalism, subsequently writing articles and conducting interviews for The Irish News.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD paid tribute to Fitzpatrick, remarking: “In his quiet and ceaseless philanthropy over a lifetime, his generosity has left its stamp all across Belfast and further afield.”

Fitzpatrick was appointed as a director of The Irish News in 1969, and his political outlook, which was similar to that of the late former SDLP leader John Hume, proved crucial in the editorial line espoused by the newspaper throughout the conflict and subsequent peace process, including his guidance on the terminology used in IRA death notices during the conflict.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill MLA said Fitzpatrick was a “quiet diplomat who worked to advance and influence peace and reconciliation across the political divide”.

He assumed the role of managing editor of The Irish News in 1981, following the tragic death of his predecessor Daniel ‘Dinty’ McSparron and his sister Mary. He also later became chair of the paper. Fitzpatrick retained a relationship with the Redemptorist Order and, in particular, Gerry Reynolds. His relationship with him and

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP described Fitzpatrick as “full of integrity and unfailingly kind”, further reflecting that “he will be missed by everyone who knew him”. Jim Fitzpatrick died on June 25 after a short illness. Predeceased by his wife Alice in 2013, he is survived by their children Anne, Bríd, Bernard, Eileen, Dominic, Clare, Jim, and Andrew as well as 26 grandchildren, and his sisters Anne and Dympna. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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After the fall Boris Johnson’s premiership came to a stuttering end with many choosing to focus on his eccentric personality and a culture of lies embedded in Downing Street, however, the true extent of his legacy is much longer lasting, writes David Whelan. Johnson came to power on the back of a pledge that he would ‘get Brexit done’. He benefited from a wariness amongst MPs of Theresa May’s successive attempts to get a deal through Parliament and in the end secured a deal which in hindsight, he had no intention of honouring in full. The history books will show that Johnson was the Prime Minister that signed the Trade and Co-operation agreement, but almost two years on, the UK’s relationship with the EU is at an all-


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time low. If efforts, started under Johnson, to domestically alter the trading arrangements agreed by both sides come to fruition, European sanctions – some of which have already begun, including denied access to the multi-billion Horizon Europe programme – and a faltering relationship could stretch for decades to come. It is not just with the European Commission where historical bonds have been stretched; any country trading with the UK could be forgiven for lacking trust

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in any agreement. Meanwhile, the Irish Government’s relationship with Westminster is highly strained and in Northern Ireland, unionism’s early hopes that Johnson would fight their corner have not materialised. That the DUP have chosen to withdraw from Stormont in an attempt to hold the UK Government to ransom over the Northern Ireland Protocol is one side of an argument that under Johnson’s leadership the union has never been weaker, on the other side the push for Scottish independence has resurged, with proposals on the table for a second referendum in 2023. Johnson was eventually forced out after it was revealed that he lied about knowing of previous allegations against his Chief Whip. In total, more than 50 members of Johnson’s government resigned in protest of his leadership, including leading members of his cabinet. However, the scandal was the straw that broke the camel’s back rather than the source of all discontent, alongside ‘partygate’, Tory MPs could see that failure to deliver the Brexit Johnson had promised will damage the progress previously made in the ‘red wall’ constituencies in working class parts of England. While many of these issues have dominated the news agenda in recent months, if not years, they have served to mask an undercurrent of a lurch to the right by the Government and a centralisation of some key powers, enshrined in legislation.

DUP leader Jeffery Donaldson MP meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Credit: number 10

suggested that the Government intends to go further in the future and make it more difficult for those who have concerns about decisions made by public bodies to bring successful legal challenges against the Government. The Act plays into another piece of legislation, the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act. With both in place, Parliament no longer has a veto over a Prime Minister’s calling of an election and at the same time, courts will be prevented from questioning the dissolution of parliament. Johnson had hoped to wield the power in calling an election in or before 2024 at a time of his choosing and while it is not a luxury he will enjoy, his successors may benefit.

For example, while the media focused on the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Queen’s suspension of Parliament in 2019, on the back of persuasion by Johnson, was unlawful, less attention was given to the fact that Johnson and his peers intended to ‘rebalance’ the relationship between the courts and parliament.

Another example of the centralisation of power under Johnson is the Elections Act 2002, which requires mandatory voter ID for any future elections. Around 3.5 million people in the UK do not have a passport or driving licence and it is widely recognised that the largest impact will be on the poor and the young – not the Tory voter base. Additionally, the Electoral Commission is to be provided with a new strategy and policy statement by the Cabinet Office, with many questioning the impact on its independence.

The Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022 limited the use of judicial review as an appeal route from tribunals amongst other things and it has now been

The House of Lords, before some minor amendments were made, described The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 as “draconian and anti-

democratic”. The Act essentially enhanced police powers to control protests – even straying into levels of noise – and apply even to individuals. Meanwhile, the Nationality and Borders Act made sweeping changes to the UK asylum system, introducing a two-tier asylum system, and increasing the standard of proof for establishing someone is a refugee. In Northern Ireland, political opposition could not prevent Johnson’s Government pushing through the controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill through the House of Commons. With no support from any of Northern Ireland’s MPs the bill is expected to face stiff opposition in the House of Lords but the Conservative party’s majority in the Commons is expected to be enough to ensure the bill, which offers a conditional amnesty to those accused of killings and other Troubles-related crimes, gets enacted. The legislation is not exhaustive of the centralisation of power, take, for example, the decision to deliver Government’s ‘levelling up’ funds centrally, even to the devolved nations. The Prime Minister’s buccaneering style and unique bravado will come forefront to the mind of most when they think about his premiership and undoubtedly Liz Truss MP will operate in a Johnsonshaped shadow. His legacy however stretches well beyond his public persona.

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All-party groups re-established after election groups, with one proposal to set up a new APG on Universal Basic Income having been made, which had its first meeting on 6 September, after the summer recess. There will also be a new APG on LGBTQIA+ Equality, which will be chaired by newly-elected Alliance MLA Eóin Tennyson.

Autism Last meeting: 13/06/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 1 Chair: Pam Cameron MLA, DUP Vice-chair: Cathal Boylan MLA, Sinn Féin

In the absence of a return to a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly post-election, some all-party groups (APGs) have been reestablished. agendaNi outlines those who continue to meet. In the aftermath of the May 2022 Assembly elections, it is uncertain when or even if a new Executive will be formed. APGs provide a forum by which MLAs and outside organisations and individuals can meet to discuss shared interests in a particular cause or subject. Membership is limited to MLAs although it is recognised that outside groups are often welcome to attend meetings, as well as to inform and support the groups work. Notably, however, APGs are not formal assembly groups and do not possess any powers, such as the ability to call witnesses or summon documentation, or formally develop policy. A register of APGs is compiled and maintained by the Clerk of Standards and is regulated by the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Membership of APGs is open at any time to all MLAs but a group must at all times include at least 10 MLAs and all three designations at the Assembly must be represented in the membership. In a new mandate, groups are allowed to continue provided they submit the relevant paperwork within two months of their first meeting. Should they not do so, the group ceases to exist. According to the Northern Ireland


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Assembly’s recent records, 40 all-party groups have met since the Assembly election. These groups are: ADHD; Ageing and Older People; Animal Welfare; Arts; Autism; Cancer; Carers; Climate Action; Community Pharmacy; Construction; Country Sports; Cycling; Diabetes; Disability; Domestic and Sexual Violence; Early Education and Childcare; Ethnic Minority Community; Fairtrade; Further and Higher Education; Homelessness; Housing; Learning Disability; Lung Health; Mental Health; Micro and Small Business; Modern Slavery; MS and Neurology; Parental Participation in Education; Press Freedom and Media Sustainability; Preventing Loneliness; Rare Disease; Reducing Harm Related to Gambling; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; Social Enterprise; Sport and Physical Recreation; Suicide Prevention; Terminal Illness; UNSCR 1325, Women, Peace and Security; Visual Impairment; and Women’s Health. The all-party groups on: Addiction and Dual Diagnosis; Children and Young People; Football; Funerals and Bereavement; and Muscular Dystrophy have not met since the new mandate and will presumably be inactive for the duration of this Assembly. The two month period to renew all-party groups does not apply to proposed new

Carers Last meeting: 29/06/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 2 Chair: Colm Gildernew MLA, Sinn Féin Vice-chair: Deborah Erskine MLA, DUP

Construction Last meeting: 27/06/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 1 Chair: Patsy McGlone MLA, SDLP Vice-chair: Paul Frew MLA, DUP

Ethnic Minority Community Last meeting: 29/06/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 1 Chair: Kate Nicholl MLA, Alliance Party Vice-chair: Steve Aiken MLA, Ulster Unionist Party

Housing Last meeting: 01/07/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 1 Chair: Ciara Ferguson MLA, Sinn Féin Vice-chair: Kellie Armstrong MLA, Alliance Party

Press Freedom and Media Sustainability Last meeting: 30/06/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 1 Chair: Matthew O’Toole MLA, SDLP Vice-chair: Mike Nesbitt MLA, Ulster Unionist Party

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Last meeting: 20/06/2022 Number of 2022 meetings: 2 Chair: Steve Aiken MLA, Ulster Unionist Party Vice-chair: Caoimhe Archibald, Sinn Féin

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TRADE UNION DESK The wages of ideology Holding down wage rises as inflation spirals is a recipe for a recession, which may kill off inflation but will also damage large swathes of the economy in the process, argues the ICTU’s John O’Farrell. Garret FitzGerald once asked a cabinet meeting of the 1973-77 Fine Gael/ Labour coalition about someone’s proposal, ‘that may very well work in practice, but will it work in theory?’ I am reminded of that quandary by the antics of the Conservative Party, in general, since its pursuit of austerity and debt reduction since 2010 and the search for the perfect Brexit since 2016, and accelerated since the defenestration of Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson this summer. When the final two candidates, Truss and Sunak, were asked at a TV debate if the passport chaos at the Port of Dover bore any relation to Brexit and the abolition of freedom of movement, both trilled “No!” like Soviet pioneers being asked if Stalin’s ‘scientific socialism’ was less than perfect. Tories aren’t supposed to be rigidly ideological. They are supposed to reflect the ‘permanent interests’ of the British ruling classes with something extra for their current donors. The flexibility which has aided their remarkable resilience for 200 years as either the government or the onein-waiting has calcified, in particular since Johnson’s expulsion of its ‘one-nation’ pragmatists in 2019 and the mass infiltration of new members from the farright, in particular UKIP. Oblivious to the onrushing train of inflation,

with energy costs quadrupling, it talks of tax cuts for corporations, scrapping green subsidies and abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights, because Home Office policies towards Afghan asylum seekers aren’t cruel enough.

Sunak or their tiny fringe ‘selectorate’ cannot. There is no threat of a wage-price spiral. Energy prices were already increasing as the economy came back to life after lockdowns, to which the war in Ukraine added rocket boosters.

They offer solutions to take on imaginary enemies within: “What is best described as the left blob, which is now omnipresent in British public life, dominant in the citadels of power, including most of the media (above all the broadcasters), the Civil Service, the NHS, the legal system (including the judiciary), education (especially the universities), social media, most public bodies and private charities. It’s even wheedling its way into boardrooms,” so says that marginalised martyr from his French exile, Andrew Neil.

According to the Nevin Economic Research Institute, if we were to heed the advice of those who say that wages must be held down, the impact is that spending and consumption in our economy would contract significantly. Less spend in our local economy means businesses having to close and jobs lost. There is every chance that such a strategy would pull us into a recession. Recessions tend to kill off inflation, but they also tend to kill off vast swathes of our economy in the process.

Added to that list are ‘militant unions’, demanding unreasonable pay claims, and so new laws are being proposed to stymie strikes and industrial action, to match the laws just passed to nudge public demonstrations to illegality. Except opinion polls show that there is widespread understanding of the case for pay increases which match inflation and support for unions taking the democratic lead from their members who are voting for action for fair pay. The public understand what Truss and

We have to begin to close the gap between wages and the price level or we risk another more serious economic crisis. Pay restraint is not the responsible reaction to this crisis, in fact it is a strategy that carries enormous risks for our economy. Pay rises did not cause the current wave of inflation and therefore pay restraint will not automatically bring it back into line. The response to the pandemic showed that when faced with an economic crisis, only government can act to prevent collapse in the economy. There is, as someone said, no alternative.

public affairs agenda


public affairs agenda

NHS crisis is a problem for our economy Economist Paul Gosling assesses how crisis in our health sector and challenges in other public services are a component of economic underperformance. Drilling down into statistics is essential to understand public service outcomes and how policy needs to evolve. An example is with the health service. Until the Pivotal think-tank published its ‘Moving Forward’ report three years ago, the scale of the NHS crisis in Northern Ireland had not fully registered. We all knew it was bad, but perhaps not quite how bad it was. More than 1,000 people in England had at that time waited over a year for planned surgery. In Northern Ireland, the number was more than 120,000. When adjusted for the comparative sizes of the two populations, this represented a waiting list hundreds of times longer in Northern Ireland than in England. In the subsequent three years, waiting lists have grown further. It is also essential to recognise the inter-connectedness of public services. We must break out of our silos, recognising that problems in one public service affect other services and the rest of society. August’s Labour Market Statistics reveal Northern Ireland’s economic inactivity figure to be 28.3 per cent. This compares to a UK rate of 21.4 per cent – a substantial difference. While Northern Ireland’s employment rate is 69.7 per cent, the UK’s is 75.5 per cent. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that Northern Ireland has the highest economic inactivity rate and the lowest employment rate of any UK region. These are important factors in our low regional productivity and wealth generation. Long-term sickness and disability are the most common explanations for economic inactivity in both Northern Ireland and the UK. But it is a worse problem in Northern Ireland than the rest


public affairs agenda

of the UK – accounting for 31.3 per cent of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland, compared to 25.4 per cent across the UK. We should consider how the waiting times and waiting list crisis in Northern Ireland affects our economic performance and productivity. This is not to understate the impact of health waiting lists in terms of the distress to patients and the earlier death for many because of delays in diagnosis and treatment. But it is to say that one of the responses to weak economic productivity must be to reform and strengthen our NHS. These are long-term trends and in the past the assumption was that the length of the waiting lists was in part the result of the physical and mental injuries caused in the conflict. Nearly 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, there are fewer working age people who were personally affected by that violence. It may, though, suggest that the NHS needs to invest more in therapies to reduce inter-generational trauma. Of course, we must also address other factors in our high economic inactivity rate. Another is the high number of people unable to work because they are looking after the family and home. This demonstrates that we need to invest more in childcare, expanding and subsidising it. Childcare is substantially underfunded here, compared with the rest of the UK. While there are a range of causes of our current labour shortages, the crisis in the NHS is clearly one of them. Paul Gosling is a writer and public speaker, specialising in the economy, accountancy, co-operatives and government and the public sector.

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