Minister of Communities – NI Assembly Questions

JUNE 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQO 625/22-2706/06/24Mr Colin McGrath (SDLP – South Down)To ask the Minister for Communities to outline how much funding his Department will allocate to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for the Irish Open 2024 in Newcastle.

Answer 18/06/24
While primary financial support for events is provided by Tourism NI, my Department through Sport NI has been able to support legacy activities for a small number of sporting events in previous years, with the main aim of opening up participation opportunities for under-represented groups in those sports.

However, my Department is facing significant financial pressures and is dealing with an extremely challenging budget for the year ahead and neither my Department or Sport NI currently has any funding opportunities available which Newry, Mourne and Down District Council could apply to for legacy activities around the Irish Open 2024 in Newcastle.

My officials and Sport NI are available to meet with the Council, if it wishes, to explore what other ways that the local community can benefit from the sporting legacy of the event.
AQO 619/22-2706/06/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the redevelopment of Casement Park, in time to host UEFA Euros 2028.

Answer 18/06/24
My Department has worked with key partners in the UK Government and local stakeholders, including UCGAA and the Irish FA, to develop a programme to construct the Casement Park stadium to meet UEFA’s EURO 2028 requirements.

In addition, officials in my Department have been working collaboratively with CPD to establish new procurement arrangements utilising the Cabinet Office Crown Commercial Services Framework for major construction projects. A shortlist of contractors has been established and tender documents are prepared and ready to issue.

As I am sure you are aware, the funding required to redevelop Casement Park is significantly more than the current funding package. There has been extensive engagement with NIO, DCMS and HMT regarding the funding shortfall. Clarification is now needed from UK Government on the timing of any funding commitment.
AQO 615/22-2706/06/24Miss Michelle McIlveen(DUP – Strangford)To ask the Minister for Communities whether he has any plans to enhance Northern Ireland’s Ulster-Scots links with the United States of America.

Answer 18/06/24
The contribution and influence that the early Ulster-Scots migrants made to the traditions, values and history of the United States of America is immeasurable. From the American Revolution, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the war of independence, through to the establishment and development of a new nation, Ulster-Scots settlers played a hugely important role. Indeed, no fewer than 20 of the 45 men who have served as President of the United States can trace their roots to Ulster, including, of course, Andrew Jackson, whose parents left Carrickfergus, in my constituency, in 1765. For the full answer, click the above link.
AQW 12905/22-2704/06/24Mr Tom Elliott (UUP – Fermanagh and South Tyrone)To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the estimated cost for the redevelopment of Casement Park.

Answer 17/06/24
As the procurement for a new construction contract for the redevelopment of Casement Park is a live issue, there are commercial sensitivities that mean I cannot provide an update on the estimated cost at this time.

MAY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 11296/22-2702/05/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Communities whether his Department will consider funding the Foyle Cup 2024.

Answer 29/05/24
My Department is facing significant pressures and is dealing with an extremely challenging budget outlook for the year ahead. For this reason regrettably my Department does not have the budget available to fund the Foyle Cup 2024.
AQW 4397/22-2710/10/23Ms Sorcha Eastwood (APNI – Lagan Valley)To ask the Minister for Communities whether Local Labour Market Partnerships are being utilised to address skills shortages in our local economy.

Answer 01/05/24
The aim of Labour Market Partnerships (LMPs) is to bring together the best placed people within local areas to improve employability outcomes and labour market conditions by working in partnership to provide tailored provision to meet local needs.Improving the supply of skilled labour is one of the four key themes the Department for Communities has set for local LMPs to address within their annual Action Plans.LMPs have put in place a range of provision to assist citizens acquire the skills required to become active within the labour market.

To date, over 2,000 qualifications have been achieved as a direct result of LMP provision, with over 300 people moving on to further education or training.

APRIL 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 6469/22-2714/04/24Ms Paula Bradshaw (APNI – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for Communities whether he is considering a review of the effectiveness of Sunday opening hours.

Answer 24/04/24
The Department for Communities has responsibility for the Shops (Sunday Trading &c.) (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 which governs shop opening hours on Sundays. There are no plans to review the effectiveness of the Sunday opening hours set out in this legislation.
AQW 9719/22-2709/04/24Ms Connie Egan (APNI – North Down)To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on Ballycopeland Windmill visitor centre, Millisle.

Answer 22/04/24
Officials from the Historic Environment Division are opening the heritage buildings to the public, free of charge, Thursday to Monday. Officials are continuing to meet potential operators with the objective of establishing a sustainable commercial model for the site.
AQW 8890/22-2714/03/24Mr Gary Middleton (DUP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Communities what projects in the Derry City and Strabane City Deal are within his Department’s remit.

Answer 19/04/24
As part of the Derry and Strabane City Deal plans, my Department is the lead Department for the Strabane Town Centre Regeneration Project and the Walled City Regeneration project in Londonderry.

My Department also has an interest in the Central Riverfront project in Londonderry given its regeneration and placemaking elements, but DfC is not expected to be the lead Department for this project.
AQW 8214/22-2705/04/24Mr Daniel McCrossan (SDLP – West Tyrone)To ask the Minister for Communities for his assessment of how the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has affected touring and the movement of cultural goods and artists across Northern Ireland.

Answer 10/04/24
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has worked with its UK counterparts to support the people and organisations in the culture sector, most directly impacted by the UK withdrawal from the EU. It provides important bespoke advice on visa requirements and the movement of goods to and from the UK through its participation in Arts InfoPoint UK. The creation of the Four Nations group of Arts Councils has also brought focus on enabling creative engagement with neighbours in Europe. The two main programmes created through this have been the Four Nations Fund and Cultural Bridges.

MARCH 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 8625/22-2711/03/24Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for Communities what grants are available to improve the aesthetic and street appeal of our town and city centres.

Answer 21/03/24
My Department provides a range of direct and indirect support to enhance and improve the physical, economic, and social appeal of our town and city centres.  In addition to the extra support for town and city centres that was provided in response to Covid-19, the Department has been and continues to deliver programmes which are designed to support the long-term viability and vitality of town and city centres.  These include Public Realm and Environmental Improvements, Revitalisation Schemes, Comprehensive Development Schemes, Urban Development Grants, Village Catalyst Grants and support for the development of Business Improvement Districts. This represents an ongoing and significant investment in our town centres. The Department will continue to deliver these programmes subject to budget availability. 

The Department also helps facilitate the appeal of towns centres through legislation, such as that for Pavement Cafes and the management of event spaces.

Recently the Department has supported a new strategic approach to the regeneration of town and city centres through the work of The Ministerial Advisory Group for Architecture and the Built Environment (MAG) who have created a new model for our city, town and village centres in the future through the co-production of the Living High Street Craftkit.  This includes a series of tools that can facilitate engagement with communities (businesses, residents, services etc.) to co-produce, place specific Action and Delivery Plans with visions and sustainable solutions for our “Living High Streets”.

My Department also supports the Architectural Heritage Fund to deliver its ‘Harnessing Heritage’ grant programme in Northern Ireland. This provides support to communities and social enterprises to develop viable options and plans for heritage at risk, many of which are located in town and city centres.
AQW 8228/22-2705/03/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Communities (i) whether he will increase funding for the Supporting People Programme; and (ii) his plans to improve workforce retention and recruitment.

Answer 14/03/24
On 6th March 2024 I announced an additional £3 million in funding for the Supporting People Programme. The Executive will agree and set the 2024-25 Budget and once the outcome is known I will consider how best to allocate the Department’s budget against key priorities.

The Housing Executive is not the direct employer for Supporting People staff and therefore, from a contractual perspective, has no role in workforce recruitment and retention.
AQW 7784/22-2728/02/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the Culture, Arts and Heritage Strategy; including a timescale for sending the strategy out for public consultation.

Answer 13/03/24
Work on the development of a Culture, Arts and Heritage Strategy is underway within my department. This is a significant piece of work and over coming months my officials will be engaging across Executive departments; with local government and with other stakeholders in a process that will culminate in the production of a draft strategy that will be opened for public consultation.

Given the significance of these sectors to a wide range of policy areas, to the economy and to the quality of life of all people in Northern Ireland, I intend that the consultation period should be timed to encourage responses from as broad a range of interests as possible. I will make an announcement on the timing and form of the consultation process in due course.
AQW 7132/22-2712/03/24Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for Communities for an update on the Culture, Arts and Heritage Strategy; including a timescale for sending the strategy out for public consultation.

Answer 13/03/24
Work on the development of a Culture, Arts and Heritage Strategy is underway within my department. This is a significant piece of work and over coming months my officials will be engaging across Executive departments; with local government and with other stakeholders in a process that will culminate in the production of a draft strategy that will be opened for public consultation.
Given the significance of these sectors to a wide range of policy areas, to the economy and to the quality of life of all people in Northern Ireland, I intend that the consultation period should be timed to encourage responses from as broad a range of interests as possible. I will make an announcement on the timing and form of the consultation process in due course.
AQW 6083/22-2721/02/24Mr Peter McReynolds (APNI – East Belfast)To ask the Minister for Communities to detail the grants for community festivals in the last three years.

Answer 05/03/24
My Department’s funding to the Community Festivals Fund in the last three years is as follows:

2020/21*
2021/22 – £369k
2022/23 – £369k*No funding was allocated in this financial year due to the pandemic.
Further DfC funding has been provided directly by the Belfast Regeneration Directorate to the following festivals in the last three years:
Orangefest, 01/04/20 – 31/03/21, £40,763Orangefest, 01/04/21 – 31/03/22, £40,700Orangefest, 01/04/22 – 31/03/23, £40,700NI Science Festival, 18/02/21 – 28/02/21, £9kYoung at Arts Belfast Childrens Festival, 05/03/21 – 14/03/21, £10k

FEBRUARY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 6370/22-2713/02/24Ms Cheryl Brownlee (DUP – East Antrim)To ask the Minister for Communities to detail his plans to ensure the sustainability and growth of Carrickfergus Castle as a heritage and tourism attraction.

Answer 22/02/24
My Department has invested £1.8 million since 2018 in the Carrickfergus Castle Roof, Grand Battery and East Sea Tower, to help conserve this important State Care Monument for the community and for future generations.The Castle, along with the Carrickfergus Town Walls and Gasworks are at the heart of the £42 million heritage-led Belfast Region City Deal investment in Carrickfergus.The City Deal investment will deliver more jobs and wellbeing benefits for residents, as well as benefitting local economies by attracting visitors and increasing dwell-time and spend.
AQW 6013/22-2709/02/24Mr Colin McGrath (SDLP – South Down)To ask the Minister for Communities (i) what funding will be made available to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council in advance of this year’s Irish Open; and (ii) what funding was made available to Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council in relation to hosting the Open Championship in 2019.

Answer 22/02/24
I can confirm that officials in my Department’s Regional Development Office recently engaged with Newry, Mourne & Down District Council regarding potential funding for a project to revitalise Castle Park in Newcastle, in order to contribute to the regeneration of the area. Funding will be subject to a positive economic appraisal and budget being available.

While there are no current funding opportunities in my Department or Sport NI to support legacy activities for sporting events, such as the Irish Open and The Open, I am happy for officials to engage with Councils to explore how local communities can benefit from the legacy of such events. As yet, my Department has not received a request to meet with NMDDC to hear of their plans in advance of the Irish Open.I can advise that officials from my Department and Sport NI have met with Golf Ireland, the governing body of sport for golf – formerly Golf Union of Ireland, to hear of their plans to develop golf as part of the legacy of hosting the Irish Open this year in Royal County Down, Newcastle and also for The Open returning to Royal Portrush in 2025.

In respect of funding provided for hosting The 148th Open in 2019, I can confirm that my Department provided funding to Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council to run legacy programmes to promote participation, inclusion and community engagement:£35,000 to deliver The Open Legacy Primary Schools Programme; and£6,750 for an Inclusive Golf Programme.
In addition to the funding provided for golfing activities, the NI Executive, in 2017, approved a programme of regeneration works for Portrush in advance of the tournament. My Department with approval from the NI Executive invested a total of £14.7M in the programme overall, of which £8.75m funding was made available to Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council