17 September 2014

Question Time - Education Tuesday 16 September 2014

Question Time for the Education Minister sated with a series of question regarding GCSE and A-level Results. The Minister stated that “ there continues to be a very strong performance by pupils here at GCSE and A level, and it is important that we celebrate and acknowledge their achievements across the North.  We should not forget the teachers and parents who supported them to reach this stage in their education.

GCSE performance was the highest since Joint Council for Qualifications figures first became available in 2002.  There was a 0·2 percentage point increase at A* from 8·7% to 8·9%.  There was also a 0·2 percentage point increase to 28·2% in Grades A* and A.   Grades A* to C increased by 1·5 percentage points to 78·0%

In A-level performance, 83·7% of entries here achieved grades A* to C, which is a 0·2 percentage point increase on last year.  The overall pass rate remained much the same as last year, with 98·1% of grades awarded at A* to E.  Of those, 7·3% of grades were awarded at A*.  The previous figure was 7·2%.

One of my priorities as Education Minister continues to be raising standards.  These results are very encouraging, but we cannot become complacent.  There remain unacceptable achievement gaps at all levels in our system, and I intend to do all that I can to tackle that”.

Schools: Religious Impact

Paul Givan called on the education minister to apologise for "the insult" he made to the Protestant churches during a newspaper interview.

Mr Givan said the Minister  said the churches should "step up to the mark around their social responsibilities in education".

The minister said he had "in no way insulted the Protestant churches".

Mr O'Dowd said he challenged the Protestant churches, trade unions and civic society to "take up the mantle of challenging academic selection and the ails it brings to our education system and to our society".

Other topics the Minister had to answer questions on during Oral Question Time were, Welfare Reform: Education Budget, Shared Education in Limavady and east Antrim and the proposed new capital builds for Priory College Hollywood Primary School.

Question Time - Culture, Arts and Leisure - Tuesday 16 September 2014

Commonwealth Games 2014

How can Northern Ireland build on the success of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games?  The minister was asked questions on funding for athletes, boxing facilities and an indication on the progress with any other capital schemes regarding the new velodrome for cyclists.

The Minister praised the Northern Ireland team for its success in the Commonwealth Games.
She noted that the team had finished 15th out of 71 countries in the medal table.

Sydney Anderson asked why the minister had issued invitations to an event to congratulate the Commonwealth Games team using the term "North of Ireland".

Minister  Ni Chuilin said that if Mr Anderson had absented himself from the event for this reason, "I think you need to grow up".

Mr Anderson rejected the minister's comment, saying that, in bringing politics into sport, Ms Ni Chuilin was being "pathetically petty and politically immature".

Ardoyne Fleadh: DCAL Funding

William Humphrey condemned the "appallingly sectarian, racist and hateful" comments made by a singer at the Ardoyne Fleadh community festival, on 16 September 2014.

Mr Humphrey asked the culture minister "what sanctions she plans to put in place in terms of the funding for the fleadh for next year".

The Minister said she, too, condemned any sectarian remarks.

The minister said she looked forward to Mr Humphrey's support, "when bands who are funded through the Arts Council, or the Ulster Scots Agency, who parade in certain parts of our constituency, who play offensive tunes outside places of worship, that the member will join with me, and that their funding and the investment into those bands should be looked at and scrutinised ".

Questions to the Minister during the 15 minutes of Topical included: North/South Language Bodies, Sports Facilities in Dungiven, The Irish Open and Newtowncunningham Orange Hall Attack. All questions and answers during question time can be viewed here .

Question Time: Employment and Learning Tuesday 16 September 2014

Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, was asked for an update on higher level apprenticeships during today’s Question Time. The Minister said he has “been actively encouraging and facilitating the development of higher-level apprenticeships” as they “enable young people to benefit from working with important employers in Northern Ireland, as well as to gain a recognised qualification at level 4 or above.” A number of pilot schemes are being supported by the Department to increase the number of apprenticeships in the public and private sector including a joint project with the Department for Regional Development to create 10 opportunities in the civil engineering sector. The implementation of the new apprenticeships strategy, ‘Sharing Our Success’, is also well under way – the Minister will be chairing meetings in the upcoming weeks with a view to establishing sectoral partnerships.

The Minister also provided an update on the upcoming relocation of South West College in Enniskillen. The college is currently working on a draft business case which will include a proposal to purchase the former Lough Erne Hospital site from the district council for the newbuild. The Department and the Strategic Investment Board continue to support the project although no funding commitment can be made until the business case has been approved by the Minister and the Department of Finance and Personnel.

During topical questions, the Minister answered questions on Welding Academy, the living wage, student finance and youth unemployment.

Question Time: Enterprise, Trade and Investment Tuesday 16 September 2014

Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton, stepped in for Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster, who was busy conducting departmental business overseas during today’s Question Time. Trevor Lunn MLA enquired about the prospect of securing direct air routes to large EU trading partners such as Brussells, Berlin and Vienna after the announcement of new routes to Iceland and Lithuania. Mr Hamilton assured that the “ETI Minister is committed to improving Northern Ireland's air connectivity” and “has already met the new managing director of Belfast International Airport and has also met a number of airlines to explore opportunities for improving our air access position”. However, it’s not possible to discuss and future plans as “discussions about specific routes and airlines are of a commercially sensitive and confidential nature”.

Mr Hamilton also discussed the Enterprise Minister’s meeting with representatives of Down District Council  to discuss new public and private sector employment opportunities across Down district. He assured that “the Minister and her officials are doing all they can to promote new job opportunities in the area.” In the last financial year Invest Northern Ireland offered almost £2.2m in funding to companies in the Down District Council area – an investment that will go to promoting 255 new jobs in the area.

During the topical question period, the Minister also answered Members’ queries regarding cancer drug research, DETI plans for economic recovery, electricity generating capacity and steps to address underemployment.

15 September 2014

MLAs Pay Tribute to the Rt Hon Lord Bannside

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: 
One of the saddest duties from this Chair is to report to the House the passing of former or current colleagues.  However, it always serves to remind us that, no matter about the heat of the political disagreements that we have in this House or elsewhere, ultimately, we are all made of the same flesh and bone. 
I know that Members will have different views on Ian Paisley's politics and his legacy that they will want to express, but it is not for me to dwell on that from this Chair.  However, there is no doubt that the former First Minister was instrumental in us all being in the Chamber today.  Indeed, he will have influenced the politics of Members on all sides of the House. 
I think that Members will agree that politics has lost a giant personality.  The international coverage since his passing acts as proof of that.  To opponents or the public, in speeches or in interviews, Ian Paisley may have come across as a strident, foreboding character, but I know that many in the Chamber will also hold valued memories of his warm and personal nature.  That came across in his reputation as a champion of all his constituents and, of course, combined with his sense of humour, on the election campaign trail, it made him a force of nature. 
It is often the case that some of the most significant and memorable political figures are those who provoke a strong emotional reaction, positive and negative.  Ian Paisley did that.  He was straight-talking whether you liked what he said or not.  Let us remember today that, regardless of his political contribution, he regarded himself first and foremost as a man of faith and family.  We express our heartfelt condolences to Baroness Paisley and the entire Paisley family.  It is safe to say that Northern politics would not have been the same without Ian Paisley.  May he rest in peace. 
As is customary, I will now invite party leaders to speak for around five minutes to pay tribute to our late friend and colleague.  I will not impose strict time constraints but I encourage Members to be brief and to speak for no more than three minutes in order to give time for as many as possible in the one and a half hours that have been allocated for tributes.  When tributes are concluded, Members are invited to join me in signing the book of condolence in the Great Hall.  The book of condolence will be available for Members, staff who work in the Building and for users of the Building to sign until 3.00 pm today after which it will be open to the public.  The House will now pay its own respects.
You can read the full transcript on our website.