Thursday, 29 September 2011

OK Martin, now over to Michelle

The campaign for the presidency of the Irish Republic is now underway and already Martin McGuinness has come under pressure as journalists and commentators scrutinise his record, in a way that has not really happened in Northern Ireland.  That is to be welcomed.

Already he has described the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, which took place on 8 November 1987, as 'atrocious'. 

But where does that leave other Sinn Fein members?  What is the view of Michelle Gildernew, the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and therefore the MP for the constituency in which the atrocity took place?  Perhaps our journalists will now ask her about her view of that appalling terrorist atrocity.

Martin McGuinness will say many things during his campaign but they should not be allowed to stand in isolation.  His candidacy is on behalf of a party which supported the IRA's terrorist campaign and the wider party leadership has questions to answer as well.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

99th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant

Last night I attended an event organised by the Ulster-Scots Community Network to mark the 99th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant.  This was the third of their annual Covenant events and it is most appropriate that it was organised by the USCN. 

The Covenant was inspired by the old Scottish covenants and the author was Thomas Sinclair, the leading Liberal Unionist, the foremost layman in the Presbyterian Church and an Ulster-Scot.  Indeed most of the Unionist leaders in Ulster were Ulster-Scots and they were proud of their ancestry.

The speakers last night looked at four topics including the Presbyterian Anti-Home Rule Convention and the role of Andrew Bonar Law, the Ulster-Scot who was the leader of the Conservative Party. 

As well as organising lectures, the USCN has also produced several excellent booklets on aspects of the Covenant and they have proved to be extremely popular.

The Ulster Covenant brought together the various strands of Unionism - Conservative, Liberal and Orange - and provided them with a common platform, affirming their commitment to the Union and setting out the reasons for that commitment.

As we approach the centenary of the Ulster Covenant and the start of a decade of centenaries that will lead on to 2021 and the centenary of Northern Ireland, we do well to reflect on the principles embedded in the Covenant.  They are just as valid today as they were all those years ago.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Rosh Hashana

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year  and this year it is celebrated on Thursday 29 and Friday 30th September.  A shofar (ram's horn) is blown in synagogues around the world to announce the new year, to proclaim divine kingship and to awaken worshippers to repentance.

The great Baptist preacher C H Spurgeon once said that in proclaiming the gospel, preachers should blow the rough ram's horn of divine law, to convict men of their sin, and the sweet silver trumpet of divine grace, to show them the answer to their sin.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Culture Night in Belfast

Last night I attended this year's Culture Night in Belfast.  It was based around the Cathedral Quarter and attracted a large number of people, including many families.  The chair of the Cathedral Quarter Steering Group, Paul McErlean, led a group of city councillors, MLAs and other guests on a tour of some of the performances and I was able to join the group.  Unfortunately his task was rather like that of herding sheep and we tended to wander off on our own to see some performance or other that took our attention but his efforts were appreciated.

With around 90 performances or events in the programme there was something for everyone - from a poetry reading on the pavement in Hill Street to art exhibitions, folk music, singers, dance, choirs, circus, magic, a Belfast rap artist in a car park off Talbot Street and even some performances that defied description!

Some of the performances were in the open-air in locations such as Writers Square and others were indoors in venues such as the Black Box, Belfast Cathedral, Oh Yeah and St George's Church.  The War Memorial museum in Talbot Street was also open and they had music from the 1940s to set the scene.

The Queen's Island Male Voice Choir were performing in the Cathedral and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society were encouraging people to join in with them in St George's parish hall in High Street.  I was pleased to see the inclusion of these two new elements as it enhanced and expanded the diversity of the programme.

Last year I met with Paul and some others to talk about the inclusivity of the programme and suggested the inclusion of aspects of our culture such as Ulster-Scots and male voice choirs.  The fact that the meeting had even taken place drew some criticism from people I can only describe as cultural fascists but it was a useful meeting and last night showed that the organisers of Culture Night had recognised an opportunity to expand the range of events.

We have a rich cultural diversity in Northern Ireland but in the past some elements of that diversity have been marginalised, and the Ulster-Scots tradition is an obvious example.  The inclusion of Scottish country dancing is very welcome and I am sure it will encourage other performers from the Ulster-Scots tradition to get involved next year.  If we are to build a 'shared and better future' in Northern Ireland then the programming for major cultural initiatives, which are intended to reflect diversity and inclusivity, should include as much of our diversity as possible.

The nature of the night is that equipped with a map showing the location of all the performances you wander round the area from performance to performance and in the course of the night you will see a wide range of art forms.  The inclusivity of the programme is therefore important in contributing to the creation of that 'shared and better future' through enabling people to see and experience art forms they might not normally encounter.  When I went to St George's parish hall I saw several people I knew taking part in the country dancing.  They are not regular country dancers and for some it may have been their first time but they clearly enjoyed it.

This was the first time I was able to get to Culture Night and I will certainly go back again next year, to what I am sure will be an even more extensive programme.

Martin McGuinness: past and presidency

Martin McGuinness: past and presidency

This article by the respected journalist Ed Moloney is a useful summary of the role of Martin McGuinness down through the years.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Forty years on

Almost forty years ago, on 11 November 1971, two members of the RUC were murdered by the Provisional IRA in North Belfast.  One of them, Dermot Hurley, was the first Roman Catholic policeman to be killed in the Troubles and the other, Thomas Moore, was a Protestant.  They were shot while they were in a shop at the rear of Oldpark RUC station.

Those were dark days with shootings and bombings night after night, especially in North Belfast, and the murders attracted only limited media attention.  The next day there were more deaths and those of the previous day were pushed off the pages of the newspapers.

Almost forty years later, on 2 March 2011, dissident republicans murdered Ronan Kerr, a Roman Catholic member of the PSNI, in Omagh.  The fact that there has been so much media attention on the murder of Ronan Kerr shows just how much things have changed.  We do not have a daily deluge of death to push this atrocity off the newspaper page or the television screen.

On 9 December 2009 another Roman Catholic police officer, Stephen Carroll, was shot dead by dissident republicans from the Continuity IRA while responding to a 999 call in Craigavon.  This came just two days after the shooting of two soldiers by the Real IRA in Antrim and Stephen Carroll was the first PSNI officer to be murdered by terrorists.  After those three murders Martin McGuinness described the dissident republican killers as 'traitors to the island of Ireland.'  On the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster, Sinn Fein spokesman John O'Dowd, who is now acting DFM, was asked if this was murder and he said clearly and unequivocally that it was murder.

The killing of Dermot Hurley and Thomas Moore by the Provisional IRA in 1971 was also murder and it was totally wrong as were the murders of some 300 other policemen.  During the Troubles 301 active members of the RUC were killed and around 9,000 injured, mostly in terrorist attacks by the Provisional IRA.  Indeed at one stage the RUC was the most dangerous police service to in the world of which to be a member.  The Newry mortar attack by the Provisional IRA in 1985 killed nine RUC officers and this was the highest number of deaths inflicted on the RUC in one incident.

Back in 1971 Provisional Sinn Fein condoned the murder of Constable Hurley just as they condoned the murder of several hundred more.  Forty years later they condemn the murders of Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr and encourage young men to join the PSNI.  That must be recognised and welcomed. 

The Roman Catholic Church and the GAA also condemned the murder of Ronan Kerr and they have encouraged young men to join the PSNI.  That too must be recognised and welcomed.  Indeed that message is coming from people right across the community.

However it raises two questions for Sinn Fein.
1. Was it murder when the Provisional IRA shot Dermot Hurley and was it murder when the IRA killed all those other policemen?  Republicans continue to look back to the past and demand the truth about the past.  so we have every right to ask them, 'Were those deaths not murders too?'
2. What can Sinn Fein do to help the situation now?  They have encouraged people in the nationalist community to provide information about recent attacks to the PSNI and again we welcome that.  But is there something more that they could do and the answer is yes.

There is still a lingering ambivalence in such things as Michelle Gildernew's character reference for Gerry McGeough, who was found guilt of the attempted murder of an off-duty UDR man thirty years ago, and the photographs of replica weapons in the hands of children at the Ti Chulainn centre.

Sinn Fein have come so far but there is still some way to go.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Disability Living Allowance (2)

Disability Living Alliance was introduced in the 1990s and there is a need to ensure that the benefit reflects the needs of disabled people in a way that is appropriate for disabled people in the 21st century.

DLA is to be phased out and replaced by the Personal Indpendence Payment and it is planned that the new benefit will be introduced from April 2013 for Working Age customers (Age 16-64).

The aim is to improve support for disabled people and deliver it through an assessment process that is fairer, more consistent and clearer, as well as more straightforward.

The new criteria for the assessment will be designed in collaboration with a group of independent specialists in disability, social care and health and they are being tested on 1,000 DLA claimants.  This is a UK process and Northern Ireland cases are being used in the development and testing of the new assessment to ensure it is accurate and consistent in assessing individuals and has regard to the specific needs of our local customer base in Northern Ireland.

This is one element in welfare reform and the legislation is currently going through Westminster.  Recently I met the government minister who is overseeing this process, Lord Freud, but we will not know the final outcome until the legislation has made its way through parliament.

Nevertheless draft regulations on the daily living and mobility activities test have now been published by the Department for Work and Pensions at Westminster. You can view these draft regulations for PIP on the DWP website at

You may also find it useful to refer to a summary prepared by the Disability Alliance at

A second draft of the regulations should be published in mid-October in time for the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords. These regulations should include the points system for the first time.  Final regulations should be published next year.

The principle of parity as regards welfare reform means that the same system will apply in Northern Ireland.


This week Diarmaid O Muirithe highlighted the word alunt in his Irish Times column, The Words We Use.

It was sent in by a reader in county Down and means 'burning' or 'on fire'.  'To set alunt' means 'to make a blaze' or to 'kindle'.

Back in 1801, in one of his Pastorals, the Scottish poet James Hogg wrote:
For if they set the taxes higher,
They'll set alunt that smoostin' fire
Whulk ilka session helps to beat
An when it burns they'll get a heat.
A century later, in 1901, W Laidlaw wrote, 'A gleed has set the lum alunt'.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Disability Living Allowance

One of the biggest issues facing us over the next few years will be 'welfare reform'.  The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government at Westminster is reforming the benefit system in Great Britain and the principle of parity will require that the same changes are made in Northern Ireland.

In the meantime statistics have been released about recipients of one of the benefits, which is Disability Living Allowance (DLA).  Some of the findings are that, in Northern Ireland, as of February 2011:
  • The number of individuals in receipt of DLA was 185,599.
  • More than three quarters (76.7%) of DLA recipients were in the 40+ group.
  • The main disabling condition for DLA recipients was 'mental health causes' (22.2%), followed by arthritis (18.4%).  41,000 people fell into the 'mental health' category and 34,000 were suffering from arthritis.  In addition 3,630 people received DLA because of alcohol abuse.
  • The highest level of DLA recipients was in Strabane (14.3% of population) followed by Belfast (13.8%), Omagh (13.2%) and Londonderry ((13.0%).  These figures are for the district council areas, and at the lower end of the range we have Ballymena (7.0%) and North Down (6.5%).
  • There are also figures showing the breakdown for parliamentary constituencies and here the highest figure is in West Belfast, where it is 19.19%, a total of 17,463.  The figure for North Belfast is 14.65% and this is followed by West Tyrone at 13.91%
Over the next few years DLA will be phased out and replaced by a different benefit but these statistics provide some idea of the current range of DLA recipients in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Duggins - another Ulster-Scots word

I always read Diarmaid O Muirithe's weekly column in the Irish Times on The Words We Use and recently he highlighted another Ulster-Scots word duggins, which was sent to him by a reader from North Antrim.  She wrote, 'My mother used the word duggins to describe worn clothes.'

This is a variant of the Scots noun deug and is found only in the plural.  It was used in G Ridpath's Answer to Presbyterian Eloquence (1663): 'Tell them if they stur again, they shall awe be cut in dewgs.'  It was also used by Ramsay in his Poems (1721).  Here in Ulster is is in the 1880 Antrim and Down glossary by W H Patterson.

The monumental Dictionary of the Scots Language, which is available online, says that the Old Scots has duigs, meaning pieces or fragments, from 1596.  It is of obscure origin but may be connected with the Middle Dutch douck, meaning cloth or rag.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sandra Chapman's comment on David Latimer

This morning (Saturday 17 September) the NewsLetter columnist Sandra Chapman had an interesting comment on Rev David Latimer.

Latimer in another world

Presbyterian minister the Rev David Latimer was photographed at the Sinn Fein conference at the weekend, arms raised above a sign which said Towards a New Republic, clearly enjoying his 15 minutes of fame before a delighted audience.

A friend of deputy first minster Martin McGuinness, his Reverence no doubt thought he was advancing the cause of peace by his presence at the conference.  Readers to this newspaper recorded their disgust.

They predicted his speech would insult victims of IRA terrorism.  However I don't think anyone should be insulted or disgusted.  Any clergyman who describes self-confessed former IRA man Martin McGuinness as 'one of the true great leaders of modern times' lives in a different world to the rest of us.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Avon Cosmetics - founded by the son of Ulster-Scots emigrants.

This morning BBC television reported that this is the 125th anniversary of the Avon cosmetics company, which is the world's largest cosmetics company.  I picked up on the item because the founder of the company was David Hall Mcconnell, a Scotch-Irish American whose parents emigrated from Ulster to America in the 19th century.

The roots of the company can be traced back to 1886, 125 years ago, when a young door-to-door salesman made the decision to sell perfumes, rather than books, to New York homes.  That young man was David Hall McConnell (1858-1937).  His parents, James McConnell and his wife Isabella Hall, were Ulster-Scots who emigrated from county Cavan to America in 1856, with their first son William, who was born in 1855.

Their second son David H McConnell was born on 18 July 1858 on a farm near Oswego City in upstate New York, where his father was a farmer and a brick manufacturer.

At first David planned to become a teacher but instead he left home in 1878 and began to sell books door to door.  In 1880 he joined the Union Publishing Company of Chicago and three years later he was placed in charge of the southern territory, making his home in Atlanta, Georgia.  In 1885 he married Lucy Emma Hays in Chicago and they had three children, two girls and a boy.

As an incentive to buy he designed a gift of a small phial of perfume.  McConnell blended the original scent himself, with the aid of a local pharmacist, and his perfiume became so popular that he gave up selling the books and organised the California Perfume Company.  The company was based in New York but was named in honour of a friend and investor from California.  McConnell believed that the door-to-door approach was well suited to the sale of cosmetics, particularly in rural areas where transport was still by horse and buggy and women had limited access to shops.

In 1895 McConnell built his first laboratory near his home in Suffern, New York.  He recruited as his first general agent Mrs P F Albee, a widow from Winchester, New Hampshire, and by 1897 McConnell had twelve women employees selling a line of eighteen perfumes.  This was possibly the first company to use a female work force to sell its products and the simple idea was that women would walk around their local area and sell the products to their neighbours and friends.  There was no need for shops and the idea of selling affordable products directly to the women's doors soon took off.

Year on year the business prospered and the number of sales kept growing and growing.  The California Perfume Company was incorporated in January 1916 and later became Allied Products Inc.and then Avon Allied Products Inc., the trade name Avon having been adopted in 1929.a

McConnell had other business interests and was treasurer of G W Camrick & Co., who manufactured pharmaceutical supplies in Newark, New Jersey, and a director of Holly Hill Fruit Products Inc., a fruit growing and canning business in Davenport, Florida.  He wasa also one of the founders of the Suffern National bank of which he became vice-president in 1901 and president in 1922.

David McConnell was a devout Presbyterian and he was instrumental in the formation of Suffern Presbyterian Church.He also played a major part in building the church and for many years he was superintendent of the Sunday school.  He also took a keen interest in education and he was president of the Suffern Board of Education.  In politics he was a Republican and was treasurer of the Rockland County Republican Committee.

He died in Suffern on 20 January 1937 and left the company to his son, David McConnell Jr.  At that point the sales force had grown to over 30,000 agents.  Today, after 125 years, Avon is still a leading brand name and one of a number of international brands established in America by Ulster-Scots and the sons of Ulster-Scots.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Foul fa ye

I am familiar with the terms 'fair fa ye' and 'sonse fa ye', which are found in both Scots and Ulster-Scots and which wish someone well..  However I was unfamiliar with the phrase 'foul fa ye' until I came across it in the old Scots ballad Jamie Douglas.  It means to wish someone ill:
O foul fa ye, fause Blackwood
And aye an ill death may ye dee,
For ye was the first occasioner
Of parting my gude lord and me.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Speech at NICVA HQ to representatives of the voluntary and community sector

Good morning everybody and thank you for the invitation to speak to you and your member organisations today as Minister for Social Development and lead Minister for relations with the voluntary and community sector.

I am delighted to see such a large turnout of committed and dedicated people here today from the voluntary and community sector, many of whom I have worked with in the past.

I fully recognise the significant contribution that the voluntary and community sector makes to civic society in Northern Ireland. Let me state quite clearly and up front that I am committed to ensuring that my department will continue to work closely with the sector to deliver social, economic, cultural and environmental improvement for the people of Northern Ireland.

The sector has an impact across many facets of life and I believe that in this Executive we have the opportunity to favourably influence policy in areas such as finance, economic development and health.

My Department is about people and the communities of which they are part, it’s about building on assets and opportunities to encourage self reliance and social responsibility. Under my leadership, this message will permeate all of our work, whether social security payments to those who need them, child maintenance, housing provision, physical regeneration, neighbourhood renewal or relations with the voluntary and community sector.

I am conscious that the Department’s work has a huge impact on peoples’ lives, delivering a budget of almost £6 billion per annum through 6,000 staff. Our work impacts on every community, town and village across Northern Ireland. The work is about supporting the most vulnerable, improving the quality of lives and ensuring access to support services.

I recognise that the voluntary and community sector has a major role to play here. The sector’s history of tackling need is widely recognised. Its future could be greater still.

As Minister I want to see my Department working towards sustainability, for individuals; for families, for communities and for voluntary and community organisations. That means:

•working with whoever it takes, whatever their background and wherever they come from, to help get people into work whether that’s part or full time

•facing the difficulties that the world market has placed upon us and helping people stay warm

•asking voluntary and community organisations to prove the value and impact of what they do as a condition of funding, encouraging those who seek to become self sustaining, prioritising support for front line organisations over infrastructure bodies, seeking out and rewarding innovation, and entrepreneurial leadership

•balancing rights and responsibilities, making sure that all parents are encouraged and where necessary required to support their children through child maintenance payments

•working actively in communities to identify the assets and the opportunities and to overcome the obstacles to economic growth

•ensuring affordable housing provision in Northern Ireland.

I am committed to renewing communities and I have already started looking at how we are doing with neighbourhood renewal, building on the good work that has already been done, putting opportunities for economic growth at the forefront. It is imperative that projects develop new kinds of solutions to address needs in neighbourhood renewal areas. I think here, as an example, of the possibilities that may exist around asset transfer and I’ve already opened discussions with the Finance Minister on this matter. My department aims to protect the delivery of front line services by freeing up resources which can be used to benefit local communities. From next year larger scale Neighbourhood Renewal projects will receive the security of 3 year contracts and they will have the opportunity to deliver services to meet local priorities.

Today when I look around this room I see huge potential, I see people of experience and creativity who are called, by strong values, to be of public service. I am excited at the thought that we can work together to create new opportunities in the interests of people and the communities of which they are part, I am firmly of the opinion that the social economy model holds the key to increased sustainability for the sector and I’m modest enough to accept that I don’t have magic solutions at my disposal. My door is open and I invite you to come share with me .your ideas for how, together, we can make changes.

Let me take a moment to outline what it means to me to be the lead Minister for the sector. It doesn’t mean that every matter relating to every voluntary or community organisation in Northern Ireland will concern me. Nor does it mean that I am well disposed towards every voluntary and community organisation. We all know that for voluntary and community organisations, as for civil servants, politicians and those in the private sector – some deliver better than others.

My Ministerial colleagues have well developed relationships with the sector related to the business of their particular Departments. Many of you in this room do business with Edwin Poots and his officials in the Department of Health. Arlene Foster has the the social economy remit, an agenda that I very much want to help drive. SammyWilson as Finance Minister has a particular interest and many of you will know he has been considering the matter of Dormant Accounts. The First and deputy First Minister’s interactions with the sector are considerable – developing thinking on the Social Investment Fund and Social Protection Fund will interest many of you. And other colleagues have similar engagement – whether in the arena of the environment, education or skills development, culture and leisure.

So what role does that leave for the lead Minister to discharge, what is the nature of the need that is to be met at this time? Voluntary and community organisations are on the edge of a new era when old certainties can no longer be relied upon and when a new spirit of self reliance will need to pervade all that you do.

Many of you have already embraced this – I think here of the truly innovative community development work done in Broughshane and District Community Development Association who inspire us all with their spirit of enterprise and self reliance.

I think too of the work of those social economy organisations who have had the foresight to realise that grant aid doesn’t provide long term sustainability and who have set about using capital assets to generate income.

Certainly it seems to me that part of the lead Minister portfolio is to advocate on the sector’s behalf across government when the need arises. Now, we need to remember that you are skilled in advocating on your own behalf and you’ve got ready access to ministers, senior officials, committees, all party working groups. My role is not to supplant that but to support it and to make sure that at the Executive, the needs and contributions of the sector are recognised and you can help me do that. That’s why I attach such importance to the Concordat as the policy instrument to help us achieve that. We do however need to bear in mind that it will be useless if you as a sector don’t get behind it .

So too I will continue to ensure the department adds value by convening others to share ideas and good practice and that includes social economy organisations. And of course the department has particular responsibility for helping support the infrastructure or the skills and capacities needed in the sector. In recent days I have held detailed discussions in the Department on future arrangements for the regional infrastructure programme and for the support of other policy areas, volunteering and advice services among them. In keeping with the views expressed during consultation, the arrangements which will take effect from next April will see very significant change to current support arrangements with a clear emphasis on rationalisation and the ending of current contacts to be replaced with more targeted support arrangements. I expect officials to begin detailed discussions with organisations over the next few weeks. Let me say this – effecting these kinds of change will mean having to end historical allocations in order to meet new needs. I have asked my officials to ensure that funding is distributed on the basis of clearly evidenced need, for clearly demonstrable outcomes, closely aligned to the department’s policy objectives and that it is very carefully evaluated. My own party has made no secret of our interest in looking at Social Impact Bonds and alternative finance sources including philanthropic sources and at helping voluntary and community organisations ease their dependency on government grants.

In respect of generic regional infrastructure, the Department plans to achieve 25% reductions effective from the start of the next financial year and to advertise for one strategic partner or consortia to deliver. Broadly similar approaches will be used to support what we describe as thematic work – volunteering, regional advice services, support for women in disadvantaged areas and the faith sector although the detail is yet to be finalised.

I appreciate that many thousands of organisations operate on an entirely voluntary basis without any recourse to public funds. In those circumstances, it would be inappropriate of me to force mergers or insist on collaboration. That’s a matter entirely for the organisations themselves. It is, however, a different story when there’s public money involved. That’s why DSD did so much to light the touch flame of modernisation – bidding for and administering the Modernisation Fund, using the fund to help support collaboration and sharing services and I’ve seen examples since I came into office. The Department has provided assistance to the Building Change Trust to drive forward work on mergers and collaborations and has welcomed work being done in NICVA to help organisations collaborate, it’s important that this work continues.

The role of lead Minister requires real leadership in helping raise some of the tough and sensitive issues that confront us all when funds are limited – it’s all very well to say we prioritise the front line – what does that mean in practice what is the minimum infrastructure that we need to support to help the sector flourish and how, in practice, do we help voluntary organisations reduce dependency on government. These are the questions that I want us to focus on over the next while.

As a Minister in the last Executive, I, like all of my colleagues at that time, approved the new Concordat for relations between Government and the sector in Northern Ireland. The Concordat provides a supportive platform for other policy issues and support arrangements within DSD and across government and I intend to ensure that it is implemented robustly. The Charities Act of 2008 introduced by DSD was the most radical overhaul of charities legislation in Northern Ireland in over half a century and in the next few weeks I meet with the Attorney General before coming to a final view on amendment to the public benefit test. Once resolved, and I appreciate that legal complexities have meant it has taken longer than any of us envisaged, the way is cleared for the Charity Commission to begin the registration process in earnest.

We cannot fail to recognise that these are challenging economic times that impact heavily on communities and families. We all know that in the current economic climate that, as unemployment continues to rise, so does those seeking support from the Social Security Agency and requiring quality advice. We have many people dependent on benefits, compared to the rest of the UK.

So tackling poverty and the proposed changes to welfare reform being taken forward at Westminster will be a significant challenge to us all and I can commit that my officials will engage constructively with representative organisations on issues such as universal credit, social fund reform and objective assessment progress.

In closing, let me say this. The challenge facing us is enormous - let that not deter us. The opportunities facing us are considerable - let us grasp them. Mine is a vision of a society where rights and responsibilities are balanced, where assets are identified and built upon, where social responsibility and economic opportunity are the norm, not the exception, where neighbour helps neighbour because it’s the right thing to do. I’m proud to be the Minister for voluntary and community organisations that are effective in achieving their missions, collaborative in working with government and each other to tackle need, able to demonstrate the impact of their work not to me but to the communities of which they are part and trusted and deliberate in working with my Department and with others for the public good. I look forward to working with you.

Thank you.