§ Rev. Martin Smyth
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the Department of Economic Development's plans to upgrade the telephone system in Northern Ireland; what role is envisaged for Mecury Communications in this; and what measures his Department plans to ensure competition.
§ Mr. Atkins
I have been asked to reply.
Plans to upgrade telecommunications systems in the United Kingdom are normally a matter for the telecommunications operators to make in the light of commercial considerations and any relevant obligations in their operating licences. The Telecommunications Act 1984 has already established the framework in which competing companies operate. We have no plans to change the present framework of telecommunications competition in Northern Ireland.
Exceptionally, Northern Ireland qualifies for support under the European Community STAR programme, under which the European Commission made funding available for the economic development of certain less-favoured regions. I understand the Department of Economic Development discussed the STAR programme with both British Telecom and Mercury and subsequently selected BT to provide the infrastructure funded under the programme.