Minister says fracking is a matter for the Executive


The Enterprise Minister said any decision about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing for gas, should be a matter for the Stormont Executive as a whole, on 15 October 2013.

Speaking in Question Time, Arlene Foster, said she regarded fracking as a novel and controversial issue and, in the light of Mr Justice Treacy's recent ruling on blood donations, it would need to be dealt with by the whole Executive.

During the previous day's Question Time, Environment Minister Mark Durkan told MLAs that, in the absence of scientific evidence proving that hydraulic fracturing was safe for animals, people and the wider environment, he would not allow fracking to take place in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster, was asked by Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane about the Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, which is threatened with closure.

She wanted to know what meetings the minister had had with Ards Borough Council and the environment minister regarding the aquarium.

Mrs Foster said she was sure the member would be a little surprised to hear that she had had no meeting with the council.

She said the environment minister was bringing a paper to the Executive on the matter.

On the subject of the Giro d'Italia cycle race, due to start in Northern Ireland in 2014, the minister said she had travelled to Milan the previous week for the press launch and that "there is enormous prestige for Northern Ireland" in hosting the event.

The SDLP's Sean Rogers said he was disappointed that the race was not coming to the Mourne mountains in his constituency.

Mrs Foster said the route had been decided entirely by experts and her department had no say whatsoever, "otherwise it would have been coming to County Fermanagh, let's be honest."

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said he believed it was unlikely that the Ulster Bank could be partly exchanged for British loans and investments currently owned by Nama.

"Having met with my counterpart in the Irish Republic, Michael Noonan, this issue has been raised and I don't get any sense of longing for such a swap," Mr Hamilton said, in reply to a question from the UUP's Tom Elliott

Nama is the Irish government's "bad bank", which controls around £1bn of property loans originally made by Dublin-based banks to Northern Ireland customers.

Ulster Bank is owned by RBS.

The minister said the future of Ulster Bank was being closely monitored "not least because of its significant size in Northern Ireland".

"It is incredibly critical to our economy that Ulster Bank does function properly," Mr Hamilton said.

Lord Morrow asked the minister how lending initiatives launched in Westminster would operate in Northern Ireland.

The minister said many of the solutions were not tailored to the situation in Northern Ireland.

Referring to the Help To Buy scheme, the minister said this was an attractive scheme for house buyers as the mortgage deposit required was only five per cent.

He said that whilst fears had been expressed that it could result in overheating of the property market in the south-east of England "most of us here would accept any kind of heat in our mortgage market".

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