18 November 2015

Question Time - Regional Development Tuesday 17 November 2015

The Regional Development Minister, Miss Michelle McIlveen was asked for an update on the Belfast rapid transit system, the Minister stated "I am fully committed to the delivery of Belfast rapid transit, including not only the current phase, which connects east Belfast, west Belfast and Titanic Quarter via the city centre, but future extensions to the north and south of the city. I regard Belfast rapid transit as a transformational public transport project for the city. It represents a great opportunity for Belfast going forward and is a major decision for my Department in relation to the commitment of funding in support of an Executive priority. I have a keen personal interest in Belfast rapid transit and recently visited some of the infrastructure that my Department is developing for the system, including the new 520-space park-and-ride facility at Dundonald and the ongoing works on the routes. The works have been well publicised, and details of the impacts on local traffic are available on my Department's Trafficwatch Northern Ireland website".

The Minister was also asked whether she has any plans to use the EuroVelo to promote her Department's bicycle strategy by Mr McKay MLA. The Minister confirmed "Northern Ireland Changing Gear: A Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland' is based around a three-pillar approach. Those are building a comprehensive network for the bicycle; supporting people who choose to travel by bicycle; and promoting the bicycle as a mode of transport for everyday journeys. That balanced approach underlines the importance of high-quality bicycle infrastructure, good support measures for those who want to use a bicycle and effective programmes for behavioural change. I am particularly keen to explore opportunities to expand the cycling infrastructure, in building better infrastructure for the bicycle so that people can have the freedom and confidence to travel by bicycle for everyday journeys. Current work has focused on the urban bicycle infrastructure and the potential to develop greenways. Both are key elements of the bicycle strategy and fit in with the main purpose of the EuroVelo, which is to provide routes that people can use for daily journeys and for recreation. My Department has had discussions with Sustrans about the route for EuroVelo 1 in Northern Ireland. Those discussions included consideration of how the EuroVelo might form part of the comprehensive network referred to in the bicycle strategy".

The regional Development Minister also answered questions on the A8 Completion Date, Winter Services 2015-16, the Newry Rail Station and Road Safety in Fermanagh.

Question Time - Justice Tuesday 17 November 2015

Oral Questions to the Justice Minister began with questions from Mr Lynch MLA, Mr Allister MLA and Mc D McIlveen asking the Minister to outline how his Department plans to address the findings of the recent published Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland's inspection report on an unannounced inspection of Maghaberry prison 11-22 May 2015. The Minister confirmed that
"Maghaberry is a challenging and complex high-security prison and this report demonstrates that. The progress that the prison made in 2012 continued through to 2014 against a backdrop of experienced staff leaving under the voluntary exit scheme and new staff coming in. The prison has faced three key challenges: resourcing, building a consistent regime and delivering outcomes for prisoners.
The report from the visit in May demonstrated that Maghaberry had been greatly affected by staff absence, which had had a serious impact on the regime and outcomes for prisoners. This has been addressed through robust management of attendance, recruitment and redeployment from other prisons. Since August, sickness levels have fallen sharply, which means more officers on the landings and a more progressive regime.
It is important to reinforce that the context in which Maghaberry operates is not the same as that for any prison in neighbouring jurisdictions. Prison officers are under severe threat, which means that an attack is highly likely. NIPS has effective mechanisms in place to disseminate information relating to threats, and staff are fully supported when security concerns are raised. Any threats to others, including contractors, are a matter for the PSNI, and there are arrangements in place to share information in that respect. In that context, I am very encouraged that over 1,700 people applied in the recent Prison Service recruitment campaign. Those individuals have an opportunity to play their part in building a safer community".
The Minister was also asked to outline the average time taken to process an Access NI check in each of the last three years and to outline the impact that youth engagement clinics are having on young people's experience of the justice system.

17 November 2015

Order Paper and Indicative Timings for 18 November 2015

The Assembly to sit at 10.30am.

1.    Prayers

2.    Executive Committee Business


Motion: Suspension of Standing Order 42A

That Standing Order 42A be suspended in respect of the proposed introduction at Westminster of the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill.

Minister for Social Development

Legislative Consent Motion: Welfare Reform

That this Assembly consents to the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill 2015 being taken forward by the Westminster Parliament; approves the welfare clauses of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as initially introduced at Westminster; the draft Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015; and the Executive’s proposals to enhance payments flowing from the agreement announced on 17 November 2015.

Minister for Social Development

3.    Adjournment

These timings are PURELY INDICATIVE
If an item of business concludes early, the next may be taken immediately.


The Speaker

10.30 – 10.32
2015-16 November Monitoring

Minister of Finance and Personnel

10.32 – 11.30
Motion: Suspension of Standing Order 42A

Minister for Social Development

11.30 – 11.31
Legislative Consent Motion: Welfare Reform#
Minister for Social Development
11.31 – 6.00


The Speaker


# The Speaker will accept amendments not later than 9.30am on Wednesday 18 November 2015

Question Time - Finance and Personnel - Monday 16 November 2015

Question Time for Minister Foster began with the Minister answering questions on the Budget and Expenditure Limits and for an update on the financial position of the Northern Ireland Executive for the 2015/16 financial year. The Minister stated " the UK spending review 2015 will determine the Executive’s Budget allocation for the five years commencing 2016-17. The outcome of the spending review will be announced on 25 November 2015. I will bring a Budget to the Executive and the Assembly for consideration after that date".

Mr Buchanan asked the Minister for an update on the number of people who have left the Civil Service under the voluntary exit scheme and how staff are selected to leave. The Minister explained to the member that 866 employees left the Civil service on 30 September, a further 1,540 will leave between 30 November and 31 January, regarding the selection process the Minister told the house " the selection criteria are being applied in order by Department grade, analogous grade and by discipline, where necessary, based on the numbers required by each Department to determine those who will exit under the scheme. The first criterion is the best value for money score, using the least cost, which is upfront compensation payment, and the maximum payback — the resultant wage savings in a one-year period. Where individuals are tied on that criterion, random selection is used thereafter. The decision on which staff are to leave has been devolved to departmental level because we felt that Departments were best placed to make the decisions on the staff that they need".

The Minister was also asked questions on the New Minimum Wage for departmental budgets, Cicil Service Recruitment and Rate Relief for Sports Clubs.

Question Time: Health, Social Services and Public Safety Monday 16 November 2015

Health Minister, Mr Simon Hamilton began Oral Question Time by answering Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr Peter Weir and Mr Adrian McQuillan's concerns regarding the Ministers plans in reforming the health service. The Minister stated that " there are simply too many layers of administration in our system, which are making it difficult to meet those challenges to drive change and weakening accountability. I want to drastically delayer the system to remove complexity and bring about greater accountability and better responsiveness. I want our trusts to be responsible for the planning of care in their areas and to have the operational independence to deliver it. I want to see my Department take firmer strategic control of the health and social care system. I have therefore announced that we will close the Health and Social Care Board, as I believe that we no longer need a stand-alone organisation. I intend to retain a Public Health Agency, with a renewed focus on early intervention and prevention, which will work more closely alongside the Department in that essential work. I have also announced a panel to lead a debate on the best configuration of health and social care services in Northern Ireland".

Mr Poots MLA asked the Minister what plans he has to address the pressures on waiting lists. The Minister explained the pressures surrounding waiting lists and the emergency departments can only be resolved with the injection of funding as quickly as possible. The Minister confirmed that " the Health and Social Care Board and trusts are already putting in place plans should additional funding become available, and that will, of course, be focused on patients with the greatest clinical need. However, even with additional funding, there are limits to what the system can deliver before the end of the year".

During Topical Questions the Minister was asked questions on his recommendation on the Donaldson Report, the Air Ambulance update and what is going to do to address the shortage of consultants in the Mater Hospital.