Thank you for having me on behalf of Sean Neeson, who was unable to be here today.
Sean, of course, has been a persistent advocate for those who have suffered the ill effects of asbestos. He was a joint founder of the Justice for Asbestos Victims group, and sends his best wishes for your successful re-launch today.
Nearly two years ago to this day, Sean tabled a motion here in the Assembly, to note the plight of asbestosis sufferers in Northern Ireland and to call for proper civil justice for asbestos victims.
Speaking for his motion, Sean highlighted the many injustices that people in Northern Ireland have suffered.
Sean’s motion was tabled with cross-community support, and it was passed by the Assembly with cross-community support. As you can see by those of us sitting at this table, this issue continues to have cross-community support.
I would like to express our Party’s view on what has happened since 2002, and what more needs to be done.
We are familiar with the court case that the House of Lords overturned, so that a man who had asbestos cancer — mesothelioma — as well as two widows whose husbands died of the disease, did receive compensation. This opened the way for hundreds of workers in Northern Ireland, especially those from Harland and Wolff, to take legal action over their exposure to asbestos.
We have also had new legislation for Northern Ireland — the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations. This law does address asbestos issues at commercial work places.
However, this law does not deal with the likes of self-employed construction workers who come into contact with asbestos in their work. For them, it is still the case of “user beware”.
Also, there is still a huge issue of what someone who is suffering from asbestos-related illnesses has to go through to get compensation. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council is currently considering the definitions of prescribed diseases, and we will want to ensure that their definitions are not too constraining. After all, what is the point of acknowledging that thousands of workers have suffered while working with asbestos, if they then aren’t deemed diseased enough by Government to claim compensation?
But asbestos-related illnesses goes beyond workers.
It affects the wives who washed the clothes, and the children who played in asbestos-insulated homes.
Indeed, there is an utter lack of legislation to address the aspect of asbestos-related illnesses caught within domestic properties.
Here, the Housing Executive and individual Housing Associations have a particular responsibility with their properties — past and present.
For example, neither the housing Fitness Standards nor House Conditions Survey include any aspect of asbestos, which I simply find incredible. Alliance will lobby to ensure that this is fixed, so that those higher-ups making strategic policy will at least be aware of the dangerous situation here and throughout the UK.
To conclude, the issue of asbestos-related illnesses will remain high on the Alliance Party agenda. Let me assure you that we will continue to lobby for the changes that need to take place, to rectify a bad legacy. We will press for these changes urgently, to protect those living with these diseases, as well as to protect their survivors, and to prevent new cases.
Thank you very much.
Sean Neeson’s motion and debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly is available on Hansard: http://www.ni-assembly.gov.uk/record/reports/020521.htm#5
Justice for Asbestos Victims was established in March 2002, by sufferers of asbestos-related diseases and their families. The group aims to improve the quality of local services and information available in regards to asbestos. For further information on JAV, contact Fiona Sterrit, Company Secretary: (028) 9078 3923.