MLAs from all Parties have voiced their unanimous support for the quarry industry in recognising the potential threat to the industry if the EU Commission decides to require recovery of the aggregates levy rebate from 2004.
Members of the Assembly passed the motion calling on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to make urgent representations to the EU President and the Chancellor of the Exchequer requesting that no recovery order is made.
Eleven MLAs including the Finance Minister spoke during the debate. Particular praise was paid to QPANI on its lobbying and its recognition and gratitude it gives when the Assembly and Executive deliver.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel Sammy Wilson told the hearing: “ I am not so sure that this has been a debate, insofar as no different points of view have been expressed. It has shown that there is widespread concern across the whole of Northern Ireland about the impact of the European decision.
“The Executive fully recognise all the difficulties that Members expressed about this important part of the supply chain in the construction industry. Indeed, in the September monitoring round, we provided additional money for schools and roads maintenance and house building. I must say that, when the Executive have responded to the construction industry and the points it has made, the Quarry Products Association is one group that has always been prepared to at least acknowledge that something has been done.
“Other people, however, feel that they have to find fault with what the Assembly and Executive have done. Indeed, I note the statement that the association put out recognising the positive impact that the decisions in the September monitoring round will have on the industry and, in particular, on its members. I thank it for that statement and for the way in which it has co-operated with us in dealing with this case.
“Of course, it was not just a case of saying to the Government at Westminster, “Will you do something about this?”. To make the case, information had to be provided and a case had to be made by the Assembly, members of the Quarry Products Association and the industry itself. Of course, one of the reasons why it has taken some time to prepare the case for Europe is that all of that information had to be gathered. Indeed, there was a difficulty at one stage, and I want to thank Gordon Best for his effort in going round his members and getting them to supply information that we were then able to build into the case.”
Mr Wilson added: “Members have talked about the differential that exists between here and the Irish Republic. I believe that there is a case for a new scheme because of the improvements afforded to us through having a quarry industry in Northern Ireland that does not do unnecessary damage to the environment. Therefore, a robust case can be mounted in support of a new scheme.
“I also believe that there is evidence that as a result of the increased costs there has been an impact on the output and sales of the industry. That is the kind of thing that the European Commission will look at. We will continue to work with the Government at Westminster, and we will continue to press the European Commission. Members should rest assured that this is not something to which we will give only light attention.”
The Assembly unanimously passed the following resolution: “That this Assembly recognises the imminent danger to the quarrying industry if the EU Commission decides to require a recovery of the aggregates levy rebate from 2004; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to make urgent representations to the EU president and the Chancellor of the Exchequer requesting that no recovery order is made.”