Junior Minister Jennifer McCann discussed preparations for the arrival of Syrian refugees to Northern Ireland during today’s Question Time. A commitment has been made to welcome between 50 and 100 refugees by December under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, with the intention of welcoming further groups on a phased basis. Ms McCann added “By taking this approach, we hope to resolve any unforeseen issues that might arise before further refugees arrive. We anticipate that the first group of refugees will arrive before Christmas. They will spend a short period in a welcome centre to provide orientation and prepare them for life here. Initially, they will be placed in temporary accommodation, most likely in the greater Belfast area.” The strategic and operational groups will be considering a range of factors including management for their arrival, translators, health, housing and education requirements as well as the impact on the local community. Local councils will play an essential role in integrating the refugees, preparing communities for new arrivals and ensuring that they are welcomed with dignity and respect.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness then provided the House with an update on Programme for Government 2011-15 targets. The Minister was pleased to reveal that more than 80% of the targets have been achieved – a significant improvement on the 70% success rate in the last Programme for Government. OFMDFM took the lead on 14 of the commitments including the Delivering Social Change framework, the social investment fund and Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) – “Those projects have brought new, innovative approaches and unprecedented levels of collaboration to bear on tackling the most invidious issues facing our communities” adding “when the First Minister and I published the Programme for Government, we were very clear that it was an ambitious programme aimed at achieving deep and meaningful change in the quality of people’s lives. Our record and delivery demonstrate that that was the right approach.”
Mr McGuinness also answered questions on the victims and survivors severe injury pension, the Community Safety College: Desertcreat and the anti-poverty strategy. During the period for topical questions the deputy First Minister also answered questions on good relations in sport, the sale of NAMA assets, the disability strategy, criminality and paramilitarism.