Other News In Brief

DUP MP Secures Westminster Debate On Organised Crime

DUP MP for East L'Derry, Gregory Campbell, has secured a Westminster debate next week on the impact of organised crime, and the drugs trade.

Speaking ahead of the debate the DUP MP said: "The impact of organised criminals on communities right across these islands is devastating. Young people in particular are affected by the activities of these gangs, and much of the supply and sale of drugs is organised on an industrial scale.

"The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last year heard evidence of how paramilitaries were involved in this type of activity, and how they exploited young people, including on occasion, using street disorder as a mechanism to repay drug debts. The most recent Inspectorate report into the PSNI also highlighted the perception that child criminal exploitation isn’t a significant issue in Northern Ireland, but this simply isn’t the case.

"It is a problem which is multi-layered, but which will only be dealt with by a comprehensive confrontation of the business empires that exist to distribute these drugs. There was an enormous 150million euro haul of drugs seized off the coast of the Irish Republic in September. We must always continue to shine a light into these areas and ensure that communities are never left behind in the hands of those who are trying to destroy them."

Education Minister Urged To 'Prioritise And Invest' In Special Educational

The Alliance Party has urged the Education Minister to "prioritise and invest" in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The party's Education spokesperson, Nick Mathison MLA, made the call ahead of an Assembly debate the party is bringing on the matter.

Strangford MLA Mr Mathison, Chair of the Assembly's Education Committee, said transformation of SEND services is vital, but it is also essential there was no crisis in provision of places for the new academic year.

"Last week, I spoke during the Assembly debate on the Budget Bill to highlight the immediate need for proper resourcing and transformation of SEND services, especially when it comes to early identification of need, meaningful early intervention and a commitment to deliver education in line with best international practice," he said.

"As Chair of the Education Committee, I have prioritised SEND provision in the Committee's work – while focused work is underway to reform the system, parents should not have to feel like they are fighting a constant battle for their child to receive an education appropriate to their needs. Many parents are justifiably anxious after previous failures to get this right, and the Department and Education Authority must now do all they can to avoid the crises we have seen before.

"The Education Minister needs to ensure any additional money allocation received for SEND is delivered in order to prioritise the needs of pupils and invest in the workforce, so we are not seeing the sector in crisis come September and beyond.
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"Alliance will continue to work with all to advocate for the provision SEND children need. I share the frustrations and concerns many have with the current system. We need urgent and radical change to make sure children can access the education provision they deserve."

UUP Raise Concerns Over Projected Sea Level Rises On Rail Infrastructure

The Ulster Unionist Party's Infrastructure Spokesperson, John Stewart MLA, has expressed concern over a report, commissioned by Translink, on the impact of projected sea level rises on rail infrastructure.

The recent report, prepared by AECOM Infrastructure and Environment UK Limited, on behalf of Translink, has highlighted some of the concerns and threats posed to the rail infrastructure across Northern Ireland due to the adverse impacts of climate change. The report examines 22 rail locations across Northern Ireland that are at risk of being damaged due to adverse effects of climate change by 2040, 2060, 2080 and 2100.

Mr Stewart said: "This report is crucial as we look at the adverse impacts climate change has on our environment and infrastructure. The Ulster Unionists are committed to seeing all infrastructure invested in across Northern Ireland, including a greater investment to improve our rail infrastructure to be more effective and efficient.

"The report highlights that by 2040, 7 rail locations are at high risk of sea level rising with 4 locations being at medium risk. Northern Ireland currently has only 6 rail lines operating and any loss to our rail infrastructure will have detrimental impacts on our economy and local communities. However, it is inevitable that within the next 16 years, the impacts of climate change will destroy parts of the Larne and Londonderry Line, with no option existing to save these tracks.

"With today's debate, brought to the Assembly by the SDLP, on the development of an all-island rail network there needs to be a focus on investing in our current established rail networks that are under threat of being destroyed.

"Whilst there is currently a feasibility study being undertaken for Phase 3 of the Londonderry Line to Coleraine, it's important to acknowledge that, in the next 16 years, several of the locations on the Londonderry Line will be destroyed due to sea levels rising. Therefore, rather than looking to expand the Line, there needs to be urgent discussions around how any available resources can be used to save or redirect the areas at risk.

"As an East Antrim MLA, I know the concerns this study will have for many of my constituents who rely heavily on the Larne Line as their main form of transport. Ulster Unionists are calling that over the next number of years, there needs to be urgent consultation with the Department of Infrastructure at looking to move and re-run the Londonderry and Larne Line to ensure that the line is not lost completely.

"However, further consultation is needed by the Department to examine the future impacts climate change will have on other rail locations and what work needs to be done now to start planning and preparing for future rail moves and re-runs."

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