23 April 2010

Assembly Round Up: Friday 23 April 2010

Revised Departmental spending plans, the first stage of the Local Government Finance Bill, the second stage of the Welfare Reform Bill and calls for St Patrick’s Day to be made a public holiday topped the Assembly agenda this week.

Monday

Business began with Dominic Bradley MLA presenting a petition from Newry residents for a roundabout at the Carnlough Road/Millvale Road junction. The Speaker will now forward the petition to the Minister for Regional Development and the Chairperson of the associated Committee.
Two Ministerial Statements then followed; with the Agriculture Minister reporting on a North South Ministerial Council meeting about the fishing industry. Next, the Environment Minister introduced the Local Government (Finance) Bill which MLAs agreed should be debated in the Assembly at a later date. MLAs then debated a Motion calling on the Executive to bring in legislation to promote a cafĂ© culture in order to help the local tourism industry. This motion was passed easily. Next was a motion calling on the Secretary of State to proclaim St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday. MLAs agreed to ask the Secretary of State to do this.

Monday’s Question Time

The Health Minister answered questions on the banning of mephedrone, the Family Matters strategy which proposes better working relationships between parents and Health Boards, an update on actions being taken on child abuse, the shortfall of neonatal nurses and adoption legislation. The Regional Development Minister answered questions on NI Water, the proposed A5 route, the remit of the Community Transport Association and traffic problems in Bangor.
Finally, a question was put to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on whether efforts were being made to help passengers stranded as a result of the cancellation of flights to Northern Ireland. The deputy First Minister assured MLAs that his office was working closely with the British and Irish Transport Departments.

Tuesday

The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment started the day’s proceedings with a statement on energy issues. This was the subject of a British-Irish Council meeting, which she and Junior Minister Gerry Kelly MLA participated in by video conference.
The Social Development Minister moved the Second Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill. This Bill will reform the welfare and benefits systems to improve incentives for people to move from benefits into work and will bring Northern Ireland into line with the national Welfare Reform Act 2009. After a serious debate, MLAs agreed that the Bill should continue its passage through the Assembly.
The next issue was a motion seeking approval from the Assembly on the revised Budget proposals for the financial year 2010-11. The debate highlighted concerns about how cuts would affect departmental programmes, particularly in Health and Education. MLAs gave their approval to the proposals after a cross community vote in which a majority of both nationalists and unionists agreed.
A motion commending the Employment and Learning Minister for supporting a programme seeking to increase diversity for those appointed to public bodies was agreed by MLAs.
The Assembly finished its business with a debate on the problems facing Quinn Insurance and the impact that this will have on those employed by Quinn and the wider local economy.

Tuesday’s Question Time

The Social Development Minister answered questions on efforts to promote shared space in urban regeneration projects, funding for a programme to alleviate deprivation, spending for capital projects, town centre regeneration and social housing in Mid Ulster.

Assembly Committee Business

There were 15 Committee meetings this week. The first meeting of the Justice Committee took place on Thursday with the Justice Minister in attendance. The Finance and Personnel Committee took evidence on the cost of insurance in Northern Ireland while the Health Committee took evidence on the Safeguarding Board, which is responsible for children’s safety.

Next Week at the Assembly

The Second Stage of the Local Government (Finance) Bill will be debated on Tuesday. More information about the Assembly can be found on: www.niassembly.gov.uk