9 October 2015

Intergenerational Parliament

To mark the International Day of Older Persons 2015, Assembly Community Connect brought member of the Age Sector Platform and members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum to Parliament Buildings to debate a motion in the Assembly Chamber, as Northern Ireland’s inaugural Intergenerational Parliament.  The debate was presided over by the Speaker of the NI Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, who invited the groups to the Assembly’s main Chamber to highlight the importance of mutual respect in our society.

The groups debated the following motion:

That this House believes the skills and experience of older people can be transferred to the younger generation; and calls on older and younger people to value and respect the contribution each can make to society.

The motion was unanimously agreed by consent of the whole House.  You can listen to the debate below or read the Hansard transcript of the debate.  

One Assembly; Many People – Community Relations and Cultural Awareness week 2015

To celebrate Community Relations and Cultural Awareness week 2015, Assembly Community Connect was delighted to invite groups from communities across Northern Ireland to share their culture in Parliament Buildings. 

The event was hosted by the Speaker of the NI Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, who welcomed the groups to Parliament Buildings and used his speech to highlight the need for the membership of the Assembly to be more representative of the community.

Some of the groups performing were Sahasra choir, Rainbow Storytelling, Annadale multi-cultural community, the Filipino community of Northern Ireland and Bright Lights highland dancers. 

You can listen to Rainbow Storytelling’s performance below.  

7 October 2015

Question Time: Education Tuesday 6 October 2015

Minister of Education, John O’Dowd, discussed the GCSE grading system in Northern Ireland during today’s Question Time. Fearghal McKinney MLA expressed concern about the difference between the Northern Irish system and the new numerical grading system being introduced in England. Mr O’Dowd revealed that his Department held a consultation on the matter and, before any decision is reached, the views of young people, parents, teachers, schools, principals, universities and trade unions will be sought – “my decision will be based on what I consider to be in the best interests of our young people.” The Minister stressed the importance of maintaining the relevance and portability of our qualifications and that they continue to be recognised across the island and beyond.

The Minister also updated the House on capital build projects in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. A number of major works have been announced for the area including £6m for Enniskillen Model, £28.7m for St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon and £23.2m for Devenish College. The Portora Royal/Collegiate Grammar business case is currently being prepared, and the business case for Edendork Primary School is anticipated to be approved in this financial year. There are also a number of school enhancement projects (SEPs) in the constituency area, valued at over £14 million. The Minister enthused that “those major works and SEPs represent a significant investment in the constituency, and not only in economic terms, as they will benefit the children and the community in the area” but warned that “all projects that are not contractually committed to will be subject to funding being available.”

During Question Time the Minister continued to answer Members queries on fair employment in schools, preschool provision in South Belfast, anti-sectarianism programmes in schools and Easter Rising centenary celebrations in schools.

Question Time: Culture, Arts and Leisure Tuesday 6 October 2015

Caral Ni Chuilin, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, gave her assessment of Culture Night Belfast 2015 during today’s Question Time. A variety of culture nights took place across the North on 18 September 2015. Through the Arts Council, DCAL made a funding contribution of £21,600 to the Cathedral Quarter Trust for Culture Night Belfast. While it is too early to make an assessment of Culture Night as a whole due to the lack of detailed information as yet, from initial feedback the event in Belfast was a particular success. Early estimates place attendance at 65,000 providing a “convincing indicator of support for the local cultural scene right across Belfast and of the sector's potential to contribute to the development of a diverse and dynamic culture.” The Minister added that “Culture nights are now an integral part of the wide-ranging cultural offering supported by my Department, such as Belfast Pride in July, the Festival of Fools and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, all of which continue to attract significant numbers of spectators and participants.”

Alex Maskey then asked for an update on the implementation of the twenty recommendations of the project assessment review report on Casement Park. The Minister intends to implement all twenty recommendations in full. Upon receipt of the report (on 7 August 2015) the Minister immediately set about implementing those recommendations deemed critical. A senior officer responsible for the regional stadia programme has been appointed in the form of Ian Maye and good progress is being made in the appointment of an independent chair of the safety technical group, which is expected to happen later this month or in early November. Ms Ni Chuilin also allayed concerns about the 12 month timeframe recommended by the report for a new planning application saying “I think that they are being very generous in their estimation that it will take up to an additional 12 months. I know that Casement is in the Member's (Alex Maskey) constituency, and I hope that, very soon, the Ulster Council will bring forward its pre-consultation consultation to equip people who will feed into a consultation on a new planning application. I imagine that that will happen very soon.”

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the refurbishment of Belfast Central Library, remuneration of Arm’s-length bodies, Together: Building a United Community, and centenary events planned for the First World War. During the period for topical questions the Minister also answered questions on DCAL funding for the Easter Rising centenary, preparing Casement Park for the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, the Foyle Valley gateway master plan and DCAL bids during June monitoring.

6 October 2015

Question Time: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister Monday 5 October 2015

Basil McCrea asked deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to outline the departmental remit in relation to the flying of flags in public places during today’s Question Time. The flags protocol was agreed by OFMDFM and various organisations in 2005. A review of the protocol was to commence in 2009 but was postponed pending the review of the good relations policy. A further review was attempted in 2011 but progress stalled due to all-party talks chaired by Richard Haass which made recommendations on the flags issue. The 2014 Stormont House Agreement commits to establishing a commission that will examine a number of areas, including flags, identity, culture and tradition. The commission will produce a report after a period of 18 months. After Mr McCrea pointed out that a NI Life and Times survey shows that many people find flags and murals unappealing, the deputy First Minister replied “I always wonder about the accuracy of some of these surveys, but the reality, as we know, is that this is a vexed issue going back many decades, and a resolution needs to be found. Thus far, collectively, we have failed to find a resolution. There is a huge responsibility now, particularly in the context of the ongoing discussions, to find a way forward that meets the approval of all the parties in the House”. The deputy First Minister went on to add “flaunting flags, whether British national flags or Irish national flags, in people's faces for provocative reasons is very unpalatable. It is not grown-up. We need to get to a situation where we recognise the need for maturity in how we deal with each other with dignity and respect in our community. ”

Mr McGuinness also answered questions on childcare in light of Westminster’s Childcare Bill, which will increase the amount of free preschool childcare available to working parents in England. Mr McGuinness acknowledged the Westminster Bill and “the Executive have committed to provide a year's funded preschool education to every family that wants it” adding “the primary purpose of the preschool education programme is educational and focused on the development of the child. A positive consequence is that parents can enter the workforce.” However “currently there are no plans to extend the number of hours provided under the preschool education programme, but that does not preclude consideration of such provision in the future.” In addition the Executive’s draft childcare strategy is open for public consultation until mid-November. The draft childcare strategy has two high-level aims: to promote child development and to enable parents to join the workforce. Each of those will, in turn, contribute to enhanced levels of economic activity, greater equality and social inclusion and reduced child poverty, thereby delivering social change. 

In addition Mr McGuinness also answered questions on the Pensioners’ Parliament, the Social investment Fund, the Shackleton site at Ballykelly, the Sustainable Development Strategy and Syrian refugees.