26 March 2010

Assembly Round Up - Friday 26 March 2010

Funding for the new Department of Justice and workers’ compensation were among some of the issues debated by the Assembly this week.
Monday
The first order of business on Monday was a Speaker’s ruling on the conduct of MLAs with regard to unparliamentary language. The Speaker made it clear that if he judged an MLA to have used such language, they must either withdraw it or be ejected from the Chamber. The Speaker also made it clear that he would not allow MLAs to challenge his authority within the Chamber.
The Minister for Regional Development then reported on a North South Ministerial Council meeting on transport matters.
The Assembly went on to debate a motion, introduced by the Finance and Personnel Minister, to approve the budget for the new Department of Justice and, Public Prosecution Service. The motion was agreed by cross community consent, that is, a majority of both nationalists and unionists approved the motion. The Assembly also approved the first stage of the Northern Ireland Budget bill. MLAs then debated a bill to enable those who contracted industrial diseases and whose employers are not in business, to claim from a government fund. This was agreed by MLAs.
Monday’s Question Time
The First Minister answered questions on the Parades Working Group, the Presbyterian Mutual Society, staffing in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, progress on special educational needs and inward investment opportunities. The Employment and Learning Minister answered questions on the forthcoming Skills Conference at Stranmillis College, bonuses for officials at his Department, the programme-led apprenticeship scheme and performing arts at Bangor’s South Eastern Regional College.
Tuesday
Tuesday’s business included MLAs again considering the Budget (No. 2) Bill, which passed through its final two stages. (This Bill, which went through its first stage on Monday, will provide funds for the Northern Ireland Government). The Assembly also debated the Debt Relief Bill and the Draft Renewables Obligation, with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment taking the lead on both. The Debt Relief Bill, of particular interest for those who find themselves in debt, will help those unable to afford declaring bankruptcy or not in a position to repay under an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA). The scheme is similar to that already introduced in England and Wales and will cost less to avail of than bankruptcy. The proposed Bill received support from across the Assembly and will now progress further towards becoming law. A debate to approve the Draft Renewables Obligation provoked a wide ranging discussion about the need for Northern Ireland to develop renewable energy sources. It was passed with agreement from across the Assembly.
Tuesday’s Question Time
Questions were put to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Arlene Foster MLA responded to issues including InvestNI spending in the Lagan Valley constituency, green energy and employment opportunities, the proposed incinerator at Glenavy, developing energy from waste material, the proposed redundancies at Hughes Christensen and making use of tidal power.
Assembly Committee Business
There were 15 Committee meetings this week. The Environment Committee took evidence from Department of the Environment officials on planning issues; the Employment and Learning Committee received a briefing from the University of the Third Age which provides educational opportunities for older people; and the Health Committee looked at GP out-of-hours provision.
Next Week at the Assembly
The Assembly will be in recess for the next two weeks, enabling MLAs to concentrate on working in their constituency offices. The next Assembly sitting day will be on 12 April. More information about the Assembly can be found on: www.niassembly.gov.uk