16 December 2014

MLAs Compete to Raise Awareness of Disability Sport

Parliament Buildings was the venue for the recent event hosted by Assembly Community Connect, in conjunction with Disability Sport NI, to raise awareness of disability sports.

MLAs competed against pupils from Mitchell House Special School, Holywood Road, Belfast, in a game of boccia, a game designed specifically for athletes with a disability affecting motor functions. Pupils gave the MLAs some tips on how to throw, kick or use a ramp to propel a ball onto the court with the aim of getting closest to a 'jack' ball.

MLAs and pupils then took part in a wheelchair slalom, much to the delight of everyone involved. It was a great event with lots of laughter all round.

You can see for yourself the fun that was had by viewing the short clip below. 

15 December 2014

‘Get Involved’ North Belfast event

Assembly Community Connect held a ‘Get Involved’ event for the North Belfast constituency on Friday 28 November 2014 in NICVA, Duncairn Gardens.

Over 60 people attended the event, at which they received presentations on the work of the Assembly and participated in a speed-networking event with constituency MLAs Paula Bradley, Alban Maginness, Nelson McCausland, and Carál Ní Chuilín.

The following groups were represented at the event:

Thank you to everyone who came along – we hope you keep engaging with the Assembly and your MLAs! 

12 December 2014

Chair denounces increases as “unfare”

Chair to the Committee for Regional Development has today denounced Translink and the Department for Regional Development for the 5% increase to bus and rail fares announced this evening.

Committee Chairperson Mr Trevor Clarke MLA, said, “The Committee will be aghast at this announcement and at the underhand way that Translink has brought these in.  There has been no consultation with the Committee, no consultation with stakeholders and, most importantly, no consultation with passengers.

We are in the middle of a process of discussion on the draft budget, which they have ignored.  We are in the lead up to Christmas, a critical time for retailers and shoppers alike, which they have ignored.  At a time when we are asking so many of our citizens to tighten their belts, Translink increases fares to fatten their already substantial reserves.

I will, therefore, be seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for Regional Development and the Chief Executive of Translink on this matter to ensure that this blatant attack on passengers reliant on public transport ceases immediately”.

Committee Membership:
Chairperson of the Committee is Trevor Clarke MLA
Deputy Chairperson is Sean Lynch MLA
The Committee has a further nine members:
Joe Byrne MLA
John Dallat MLA
Alex Easton MLA
Ross Hussey MLA
Chris Lyttle MLA
Declan McAleer MLA
David McNarry MLA
Stephen Moutray MLA
Cathal Ó hOisín MLA

For media enquiries please contact:
Julie Devlin
Deputy Communications Officer
Northern Ireland Assembly
Tel: 02890521606
Mobile: 07900278992

10 December 2014

Question Time - Regional Development Tuesday 09 December 2014

How will the Ministers departmental budgetary pressures impact on the winter service programme. This is the question asked by Mrs Dobson to the Minister at the start of Oral Question time.

The Minister explained that, "my Department has delivered £15 million of resource departmental expenditure limit (DEL) to meet the 4·4% budget reduction agreed by the Executive in 2014-15. These cuts were addressed through a number of savings measures including a series of measures to reduce my Department’s administration spend; reductions in funding to Translink; stopping external contractors' work on routine road maintenance, including patching, grass cutting and gully emptying; and suspending the use of external contractors for the repair of street lights that fail, unless they pose an electrical hazard to the public.

However, a number of pressures remain within my Department, the largest being the £20 million pressure in respect of the release of value from Belfast Harbour Commissioners. My Department’s budget was set, as part of Budget 2011-15, by the then Executive on the basis that £20 million of income would be secured from Belfast Harbour Commissioners in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. The Budget review group subsequently agreed that the Department should work collaboratively with Belfast Harbour Commissioners on release-of-value projects. While the Harbour has agreed to undertake £41·5 million of release-of-value projects and is progressing these, there is no means of crediting this investment to my Department’s budget. The Executive agreed that the shortfall should be addressed through in-year monitoring, and this was the case in 2013-14 when the Executive allocated £20 million to my Department during the year.

In September 2014, the Budget review group recommended that the Executive take the same steps. They have not yet done so, with my bids for the £20 million in June and October monitoring being unsuccessful. I am conscious of time, but this is important, so I claim your indulgence, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. The next stage of resource measures available to me would involve cutting core front-line services, including some £3 million of funding for winter service activities. These measures directly affect public safety, including no gritting or snow clearing. I am simply not prepared to put the public at risk by stopping such services".

During Oral Question Time the Minister was also asked to outline the success of his Department's EU unit in increasing the draw down of EU funds, Mr Beggs asked the Minister for an update on the prce control process in relation to NI Water and Mr O Muilleoir asked for an update on the proposed York Street interchange.

The full transcript can been read here

Question Time: Justice 09 December 2014

Leslie Cree and Lord Morrow asked Minister of Justice, David Ford, what he can do to incorporate the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Northern Ireland’s justice system during today’s Question Time. The NCA is currently prohibited from operating in the devolved affairs of Northern Ireland. The Minister believes “there is clearly a major gap in our ability to tackle serious and organised crime groups as a result.” That is why the Minister is working with the PSNI, the NCA, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office in an effort to resolve the situation. Mr Ford presented a paper, composed with the co-operation of these organisations, to the political parties, the Justice Committee and the Policing Board setting out proposals regarding the NCA, “which should, in my view, enable us to achieve the full operation of the agency here.” The Minister highlighted the vulnerabilities in our justice system that could be strengthened with the help of the NCA and added that “I will continue to urge all Members to work constructively to reach agreement on the current proposal so that our law enforcement agencies and our people can benefit from the skill, expertise and resources of the NCA”.

Paul Frew also took the opportunity to ask the Minister about the departmental funding cut from the Railway Street Drug Arrest Referral and Harm Reduction Service. In the last three years the department has contributed close to £1m in funding to the service, representing approximately two thirds of the cost. The Northern Health and Social Care Trust was first informed in October 2013 that funding was at risk due to the changing financial climate. And in October 2014 the Trust received the news that increasing budget pressures would see an end to funding in January 2015. Mr Ford has met with various officials and stakeholders regarding the decision and to consider further possibilities while maintaining “the decision was not an easy one and was not taken lightly. However, following the significant cuts in funding to the DOJ in-year, it has not been possible to continue to protect front-line services”.

The Minister also answered questions on funding awarded from seized criminal assets, the criminal law on abortion consultation in Scotland and bullying among prison staff. During topical questions Mr Ford also fielded queries on clay pigeon shooting legislation, budget cuts in the Court Service and the cost of legal aid.