3 July 2015

Education Committee Agrees Shared and Integration Report and Listens to Evidence on SEND Bill

After a lengthy Inquiry, lasting almost a year, and including 25 evidence sessions and around 100 written submissions, the Committee for Education this week agreed its draft report on its inquiry into Shared and Integrated Education
The Inquiry sought to review the nature and definition of Shared Education and Integrated Education across all educational phases and the final report which will be published in September 2015 will make a number of important recommendations to the Department. You can read all written submissions to the Committee here.

EDUCATION COMMITTEE HEARS Department of Education response on the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill
This week also saw the continuation of the Committee Stage of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Bill. Members heard the Department of Education’s response on the commentary and suggested amendments raised during the oral evidence sessions with stakeholders.

Listen to the Department's response below:

EDUCATION COMMITTEE HEARS from the Education Authority on its draft policy on home schooling or elective home education

Listen to the Education Authority's briefing session below:

1 July 2015

Question Time: Health, Social Services and Public Safety Tuesday 30 June 2015

Health Minister Simon Hamilton acknowledged the growing demands on GPs and their clinics in answer to David McNarry during today’s Question Time. As a result there was a £15m investment in GP services this year, including provisions to recruit more GPs. A significant amount of the investment was also intended for GPs to modernise and expand their practices. Through various organisations and the trade unions, Mr Hamilton is in constant dialogue with GPs in an effort to hear their concerns and assist them in their work.

Alex Easton then expressed his concern about the future of the Northfield House residential care home in Donaghadee and its residents in light of the current consultation of Northern Ireland’s care homes. The Minister assured the Member that no permanent residents will be forced to leave their home against their wishes as long as their needs can be met safely and that no decisions have yet been made on the future of any of the other homes being considered as part of the ongoing regional review of statutory care home provision. While it has been earmarked for closure, the South Eastern Trust's proposals for Northfield House are subject to public consultation, and no decision will be taken pending the outcome of the consultation process - all responses will be taken on board and considered carefully. The Minister also assured that the health trusts have redeployment and workforce planning measures in place to ensure that no staff will lose jobs in the event of any closures.

The Minister also addressed Members queries on the Paediatric Centre of Excellence at Daisy Hill, funding for community and voluntary organisations, the Western Trust’s ‘Meals on Wheels’ service, the potential closure of Bangor Community Hospital and the independent living fund.

Question Time: Finance and Personnel Tuesday 30 June 2015

During today’s Question Time, Gordon Dunne asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Arlene Foster, for her assessment of the impact of the weekly £2m fine for a failure to implement welfare reform on Executive budgets. The Minister declared that the continued non-implementation of welfare reform is jeopardising financial arrangements made in the Stormont House agreement and if the situation continues there will be “a significant detrimental impact on the ability of Departments to deliver public services” adding that “now is the time either for the parties around the Chamber to live up to the Stormont House Agreement or for Westminster to step in and deal with the welfare issue. Doing nothing is simply not an option.” The cost of failing to implement welfare reform is estimated at £114m this year, £196m in 2016-17 and £283m in 2017-18. As the welfare situation changes in the rest of Great Britain, the gap between us and the rest of the United Kingdom could grow even further.

Megan Fearon also asked the Minister for her views on the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) memorandum warning western Governments against ‘needless austerity’. Mrs Foster feels that it is the rate of repayment of public-sector debt that is in question and, in that regard, the United Kingdom has room to manoeuvre; arguing that rushing to repay the debt too quickly may be counter-productive. The Minister feels that individual regions need to be considered on their own circumstances declaring “I believe that, when you are dealing with debt and the deficit, you need to have concern and regard for all the regions of the United Kingdom. I have commented previously that you do not just look at London and the south-east; you have to have regard to all the other regions of the United Kingdom” adding that “different regions of the United Kingdom have different needs, and that is where we really need to push ahead with the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury”.

Mrs Foster also answered questions on expenditure control limits, the Barnett Formula, the voluntary exit scheme and tax credits.

30 June 2015

Enjoy Sumptuous Summer Dining On The Hill

This summer for the first time in its history, Parliament Buildings will throw open the doors of the elegant Members’ Dining Room to the public.

Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA serves afternoon
tea to (L-R) Susan Doherty, City Sightseeing Tours and Sarah Gribben, Visit Belfast
From Monday 6 July – 28 August you can dine in the refined splendour of the Members’ Dining Room and savour morning coffee, a three course lunch or traditional afternoon tea while admiring the beautiful surroundings of the Stormont Estate.

The Members’ Dining Room is a feast of architectural splendour, constructed in the 1920s it features traditional oak panelling with classically detailed carvings and ornate cornicing. The room also boasts an array of portraits of former Speakers from the Assembly’s inception in 1998.

Morning Tea and Coffee will be served from 10am – 11.30am and you can choose from a delicious range of freshly baked scones served with Jam and clotted cream or a selection of Danish and Pain au Chocolat pastries. It’s the perfect way to round off an early morning walk in the estate or as a prelude to one of our popular Parliament Buildings tours which during the summer will run on the hour every hour between 10am and 3pm. Take our virtual tour to give you a glimpse of what’s on offer.

If breakfast has whetted your appetite – just wait until you see what we have on offer for lunch. We have sizzling starters, magnificent mains and devilishly delicious desserts. You can choose one course or combine two for £12.00 or three for £15.00, the latter also includes complimentary tea and coffee. We also have a Children’s menu with healthy and freshly prepared dishes for £5.00.

If you didn't avail of the morning walk in the estate – perhaps a gentle saunter after lunch will help ease the guilt of that scrumptious strawberry and orange tart. You can also visit our Gift shop which sells a range of postcards, books and souvenirs alongside individually designed jewellery items and hand crafted goods all made by local independent crafters.

There is nothing quite like a good cup of tea and our traditional afternoon tea resplendent with a selection of freshly prepared finger sandwiches, warmed scones with clotted cream and preserves and a variety of home-made cakes and pastries will create a perfect close to your day here.

All of our food is lovingly prepared by talented and award winning chefs  who are committed to using only locally available fresh produce and ingredients.

While booking isn't necessary, it is advisable to ring ahead to check availability (02890521041). We look forward to seeing you on the hill this summer and would love you to tell us about your dining experience – send us your reviews and photographs via our facebook, twitter and Instagram pages.

Question Time: Environment Monday 29 June 2015

Environment Minister, Mark Durkan, discussed the Environment Committee’s report on wind energy and how he will take on board its recommendations during today’s Question Time. The Committee began an inquiry into wind energy in November 2013 and published its findings in a report in early 2015. The Minister welcomed the report saying that “it makes a valuable contribution to the debate surrounding wind energy development” adding that “I have sought to take account of the report's recommendations in finalising my strategic planning policy statement (SPPS), which I will publish as soon as possible following its consideration by the Executive.” Some of the recommendations will be taken forward through guidance notes that the Department is preparing on the processing of wind energy development. Other recommendations such as noise assessment methodology and the minimum separation distance of turbines from homes require further research and public consultation which will take place as part of the fundamental review of strategic planning policy for renewable energy. The Minister also assured that he will work with the relevant authorities to ensure that recommendations that fall outside the remit of the Department of the Environment (DoE) will be given due consideration.

The Minister then updated the House on the current state of funding for non-governmental organisations in 2015-16. The budget settlement for DoE has had serious implications for grant-aided programmes that support key environmental processes. Mr Durkan has sought to limit the impact of cuts primarily through the use of £1.5m in carrier bag levy receipts. In April 2015 the Minister launched a workshop to determine the best way to invest residual carrier bag levy funds. Following the workshop, attended by 22 environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs), the natural environment fund (NEF) opened for applications. The application period closed in May and by mid-June, 21 ENGOs were notified of their successful application for grant funding.  Mr Durkan acknowledged that current funding arrangements are not ideal given their ad hoc nature with no long-term guarantees of sustained funding but maintained “I was not particularly pleased with the hand that was dealt to me in the Budget. However, I think that I have played that hand as well as I could. While the stakes are high for all those groups, I took the gamble and got a big win for them”.

Mr Durkan also addressed Members queries on recycling, local development plans, disposal of tyres and the transfer of functions to local government.