The Forestry Bill, all-island economic regeneration, car insurance and the closing of Whiteabbey and Mid-Ulster’s accident and emergencies wards topped the Assembly’s agenda this week.
Business began with the presentation by the Chair of the Education Committee of a public petition on rebuilding Whitehouse Primary School to the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr William Hay.
The Minister for Social Development then introduced the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill to MLAs – this Bill deals with liquor licensing. MLAs agreed that it should be debated at a later date. The Construction Contracts (Amendment) Bill Second Stage was agreed by MLAs and will now be passed to the Committee for Finance and Personnel for consideration. The proposed Bill deals with improvements to the way contracts operate within the construction industry.
Sinn Fein members proposed a motion calling on the Executive to explore all-island economic regeneration, focusing on whether it might be possible for VAT rates, taxation and corporation tax to be more closely aligned across the island. The motion was debated and then defeated on a recorded vote. (This is where MLAs enter either the Aye (yes) or No lobbies and electronically record their votes.)
Monday’s Question Time
Questions put to the Finance Minister included when a meeting would take place with the new Chancellor and how Departments administer funds received from the European Union. The Health Minister answered questions on support to multiple sclerosis sufferers, the use of branded and generic drugs, the timescale for a single Bill on mental heath and learning disabilities and funding for the new build for Tyrone County Hospital. The Health Minister also answered an urgent question on the proposed reduction in services at Whiteabbey and Mid-Ulster Hospitals.
Finally, MLAs debated a motion condemning robberies in local communities and called on the new Justice Minister to develop new ways to protect people and property. This motion was agreed by MLAs.
The first piece of business was a motion expressing the Assembly’s concern about car insurance premiums. The motion called on the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister to meet with insurance companies to look at possible reductions to premiums with a view to bringing Northern Ireland more in line with other regions. After serious debate, MLAs agreed the motion.
Next up was a motion noting the Assembly’s concern at the Education Minister’s plans to streamline and centralise the administration of educational services in the absence of the proposed Education and Skills Authority. The motion also called on the Minister to update the Assembly on progress made to date on this issue. After a lively debate, the motion was agreed.
MLAs then turned to the final debate of the day, the provision of a new build for Castle Tower Special School in Ballymena.
Tuesday’s Question Time
The Regional Development Minister answered questions on Translink’s pilot scheme to provide information for blind and partially sighted passengers, plans to improve roads in North Down, how his Department is dealing with the effects of security alerts on transport, airport closures and the role of the Utility Regulator on the issue of water charging.
Assembly Committee Business
There were 16 Committee meetings this week. The Social Development Committee received briefings from the National Autistic Society and Mencap on the Welfare Reform Bill. The Education Committee received a departmental briefing on outcomes of the reviews of Irish-medium schools and progress on implementation of the recommendations.
Next Week at the Assembly
Cuts to the Department of Education community relations budget and the availability of pre-school places will be discussed next week. For more information about the Northern Ireland Assembly, you can go to www.niasssembly.gov.uk, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter