The matter I wish to raise relates to the north west radiotherapy centre that was due to be built in Altnagelvin. Construction was due to be completed in 2015. The people of the north west, namely, those in Donegal and Derry, are very concerned with regard to the unilateral decision taken by the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr. Michael McGimpsey, MLA, last week to the effect that construction on the centre will not now proceed. This has given rise to fears among cancer sufferers in the north west, their families and those who campaigned long and hard to bring us to the point were a centre such as that proposed for Altnagelvin was to be built on a cross-Border basis.
Under the agreement that was reached, the authorities in this State were supposed to purchase services from the Assembly in the Six Counties for the people of Donegal. This is a central plank of the State's cancer strategy. In light of Minister McGimpsey's decision, I am seeking that the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children intervene. I am not sure whether any discussions took place between the previous Minister for Health and Children and her counterpart in the North. I welcome the fact that responsibility for health and children now lies with the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, who, in view of the area in which she lives, will have a clear understanding of this matter.
There is a need for both dialogue and an element of straight talking with the North's Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in respect of this matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, will be aware of the unique governance arrangements that exist in respect of the Assembly in the Six Counties. Unlike their counterparts in the South, each Minister in the Six Counties has executive authority. While the Executive in the Six Counties agrees the overall budget and the allocations for each Department, it is the responsibility of the relevant Ministers to decide how money is spent. They do not require the approval of the Executive in this regard. Those arrangements came about under the British-Irish Agreement. They were drafted in the context of our past and were designed to ensure that no section of the community or party could interfere with the budget of a Minister from another party.
Even though €25 million has been ring-fenced in the draft budget of the Executive in the Six Counties for the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to proceed with the project, the latter has taken a unilateral decision to the effect that the centre will not be built because he cannot guarantee that, post-2015, he will have the money required to cover the running costs of the facility. Of course, this presumes that Mr. McGimpsey will be Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety following the Assembly elections which are due to take place in May. In addition, the budget in the North is a four-year budget and it runs from 2011 to 2015. There is again, therefore, a presumption that in 2015 the money relating to the facility will still not be forthcoming in 2015.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is the only Department in the North not to have its budget cut. This is due to the existence of what is termed the "block grant". The position in the Six Counties is different to that which obtains here. The Assembly does not have tax-raising powers and must rely instead on the block grant provided by the British Exchequer. The money allocated under this grant is disbursed among the various Departments. As already stated, the budget of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety was not reduced.
The refusal to build the centre at Altnagelvin, even though the money relating to the project has been ring-fenced, is playing on the fears of cancer sufferers in the north west. I am of the view that the North's Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is posturing and is trying, perhaps, to strengthen his hand as he enters negotiations with the Minister for Finance and Personnel on the need for additional funding. This is despite the fact that the entire block grant for the North is allocated to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
It would be easy to take the view that this is a matter with which the northern Executive should deal. I am of the view that it is not an issue for the Executive because, in light of the unique governance arrangements that exist, the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is in a position to decide how his Department's budget should be spent. If he decides that it will not be spent in particular areas, the northern Executive has no control over his actions. There is, however, a role for the southern Government. The need for the centre has long been recognised by the health Departments, North and South. This matter has been discussed by the North-South Ministerial Council on many occasions. I commend the Government in this State on its commitment to provide Exchequer funding to build the centre in the north west and to cover some of the operating costs. It is central for the people of Donegal and for the cancer strategy. I ask that the new Minister for Health and Children, who has this responsibility, would engage with her ministerial counterpart in the North to discuss and try to find a resolution to this issue as soon as possible.