19 March 2010

Assembly Round Up - Friday 19 March 2010

Northern Ireland Water, the dioxin contamination incident, funding for preparatory schools and the Presbyterian Mutual Society topped the Assembly’s agenda this week.
Monday
Monday’s Assembly proceedings began with announcements that the Budget Bill and the Water and Sewage Services Bill received Royal Assent and became law on 12 March. A statement by the Regional Development Minister on the report into procurement at Northern Ireland Water followed and the Environment Minister spoke about a public consultation on road safety strategies after issuing condolences to the families of those killed on the road over the weekend.
The Assembly moved swiftly on to a committee motion approving the recommendations made in their report on dioxin contamination in animal feed. This report highlighted the problems in communication between the relevant departments in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After a serious debate, and with support from across all parties, the motion was passed.
Question Time saw the Education Minister answer questions on school building projects, funding for projects over the past four years, educational underachievement, primary schools in Islandmagee, preparatory school funding and grammar school admissions. The Agriculture and Rural Development Minister then answered questions on farm modernisation, rural isolation, the rural development programme, the Forestry Bill and using townland names in departmental correspondence.
Finally, the Assembly debated a motion on funding for preparatory schools, calling on the Minister to reverse her decision. An amendment asking the Minister to consult with the schools was passed, and the motion was agreed after passionate debate.
Tuesday
Tuesday’s business began with a statement from the Environment Minister on the latest North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting, in which environmental issues were discussed.
The Assembly then turned to European funding, debating a motion requesting the Finance and Personnel Minister to consult with all stakeholders to set priorities for any future funding package. An amendment calling for the NSMC and British Irish Council to identify funding opportunities was agreed, and the amended motion was agreed by MLAs. The Assembly went on to debate a motion on the House of Common’s Treasury Committee Report. The focus of the report was on the failure of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, with the motion noting the conclusions. The motion also called on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to advise the Assembly of the reasons that a positive resolution had not yet been achieved. After vigorous debate the motion was agreed with support from across the Assembly.
Question Time saw the Minister of Finance and Personnel, answering questions on the instructions sent to the Departmental Solicitor’s Office requesting an opinion following allegations raised in the BBC Spotlight programme and the cost of this advice to the public, departmental budgets, public procurement, dormant bank accounts and the public sector prompt payment policy. The Assembly finished off its business with a discussion of extending roofs and houses in North Belfast.
Assembly Committee Business
There were 10 Committee meetings this week, fewer than normal due to the St Patrick’s Day holiday on Wednesday. The Regional Development Committee met in closed session (not open to the public) about the Independent Report into Northern Ireland Water and Enterprise, Trade and Investment received written briefings on the Energy Bill and Credit Union Legislation.
Next Week at the Assembly
Financing the devolution of policing and justice, the Budget Bill, workers’ compensation for pneumoconiosis and Debt Relief will be on the agenda for the Assembly next week.