Our weekly digest of debates you may have missed at Stormont
Long road to recovery? The UUP’s Ross Hussey said, in a Tuesday debate on the future Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital’s addiction treatment unit, that he is worried centralisation of services is ongoing because it is financially easy, and could lead to “insufficient” care. The MLA said retention of an addiction treatment service in the Western Trust area was vital.
The DUP’s Tom Buchanan said people in Omagh and Fermanagh are disappointed at the proposed loss of addiction care, saying leaving the entire trust area without such a service “runs contrary to the very ethos of Transforming Your Care (TYC)”. He added that alcohol problems are especially prevalent in rural areas, and people in the area should not be expected to travel to Antrim or Down for treatment, while the links between substance abuse and mental health issues should also be considered. Sinn Féin said detoxification and stabilisation are important issues, and that travelling to Holywell could prove dangerous due to the distance, especially as ambulance cover west of the Bann is “scant” and public transport lacking.
The SDLP said it accepts the need for change but not the direction of TYC, while the specific proposals come with a “significant” geographical barrier, calling into question quality of care for those in the west. The Health Minister said substance abuse is one of our main public health challenges, costing around £1bn per year, while changing services will reflect the closer-to-home ethos of TYC – but that no decisions have been made, and the HSC Board will take geographic considerations into account.
Rubbish disposal? At Question Time on Tuesday, the DUP’s Sydney Anderson asked the Environment Minister what he planned to do in light of the recent review into waste disposal which showed widespread illegal dumping. Mr Durkan said the report “powerfully illustrates” local issues in this area, with an estimated 516,000 tonnes found at the illegal Campsie site, while the problem is known to not be isolated.
The Minister said he is awaiting upcoming proposals before announcing his plans, but that he could be advised to make broad changes to both regulations and oversight, saying that loopholes need to be closed in response to a further question from Mr Anderson, who noted regulators received scathing criticism – with the planning office found to have played a pivotal role in authorising developments used for illegal disposal.
Sinn Féin asked how much it will cost to fully clear and decontaminate the Mubouy site, with the Minister saying the report’s estimates run into hundreds of millions of pounds, but that it is hoped that is not the case, with clean-up decisions set to depend on current investigations. The SDLP asked what discussions have taken place about tackling such crimes on an all-island basis. Mr Durkan said the matter was raised at the last North/South Ministerial Council meeting and that co-operation is vital due to the cross-jurisdictional nature of such problems. The UUP asked if anyone has been charged or convicted in relation to the offences, with the Minister saying investigations are ongoing and he is unable to comment.