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5 March 2010

Assembly Round Up - Friday 05 March 2010

This week the Assembly debated public expenditure, housing, the budget as well as the Bill of Rights and the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy.
Monday
Monday’s Assembly proceedings began with discussion of the murder of Kieran Doherty, under ‘Matters of the Day’. MLAs from all parties expressed sympathy for Mr Doherty’s family and condemned the murder.
The Assembly heard the Minister of Finance and Personnel deliver a Statement about the outcome of the February Monitoring Round. Monitoring Rounds take place quarterly and provide the Finance Minister an opportunity to re-allocate monies unspent by Departments. Following the Ministerial Statement, the Assembly considered the Housing (Amendment) Bill and the Land Registry (Fees) Order. A Motion on Proposals for a Bill of Rights was narrowly defeated after a lengthy debate.
Question Time saw questions put to the deputy First Minister and the Environment Minister. Martin McGuinness answered questions on the equality impact of including a Justice Minister in the Executive, appointing a new Victims’ Commissioner and the parading working group. The Environment Minister was questioned on community planning strategies, alternatives to fossil fuels, road safety initiatives, Ministerial involvement in planning applications and approvals for sports grounds, Planning Policy 21 which governs rural planning permission and other planning statements.
Finally, MLAs debated a Motion welcoming the ending of 50/50 Recruitment in the PSNI in 2011. The Motion, postponed from last week, was agreed following debate by a recorded vote of 46 to 37. (A recorded vote occurs when the Speaker asks that MLAs divide into ‘ayes’ to the right and ‘noes’ to the left. This allows votes to be counted in the Division Lobbies beside the Chamber. The results are then recorded in the Official Report [Hansard] and in the formal Minutes of Proceedings of the Assembly.)
Tuesday
Tuesday’s proceedings began with statements from the Environment Minister and OFMDFM Junior Minister on reform of the Planning Service and British Irish Council meeting on drug use in prisons. The Assembly then debated the Budget Bill which will determine local spending priorities for 2010-11. The Assembly quickly moved on to consider a Motion on the Rates (Exemption for Automatic Telling Machines in Rural Areas). This Motion, agreed with support from across the Assembly, is designed to keep ATMs in rural areas. Next up was a Draft Rates Motion to allow pensioners to defer paying rates until their property is sold. Again, this Motion passed with support from across the Assembly.
Question Time saw the Minister for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure answer questions on promoting our industrial heritage, cultural tourism, developing cricket, stadium development at Windsor Park and the shortage of sports pitches in West Belfast.
The Assembly debated a Motion on Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy with calls for it to be published. After a lengthy debate, it was agreed by a recorded vote of 42 to 23. Finally, the Assembly discussed the topical issue of anti-social behaviour in the Holylands area.
Assembly Committee Business
The Agriculture Committee continued its scrutiny of the Forestry Bill. The Regional Development Committee concentrated on the draft Bill for reform of public transport, the Education Committee received a briefing from Departmental Officials on primary school funding and the Environment Committee was briefed on the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill.
Next Week at the Assembly
The Assembly will debate the Savills Report on social housing, the Farm Modernisation Scheme, the possible introduction of a boiler scrappage scheme and the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.