First Minister, Peter Robinson, confirmed that he and the deputy First Minister will be participating in the St Patrick’s Day events in Washington for a seventh successive year during Question Time. On Friday 14 March they will host the Northern Ireland Bureau Breakfast for 250 contacts from the Greater Washington area before attending a private meeting at the White House and then travelling to Capitol Hill for the Speaker’s St Patrick’s Day lunch. When Patsy McGlone enquired whether the Haass talks will be discussed with the administration, Mr Robinson said that he would be very surprised if there aren’t discussions on Northern Ireland’s affairs due to the United States’ genuine interest in seeing us continue to make progress and is ready to “share with them our news of what progress has been made to date and the difficulties that we now face”.
Junior Minister Jonathan Bell then updated the House on the independent assessment of the Victims and Survivors Service. Mr Bell was delighted to inform the Chamber that the full assessment report was delivered on 14 February 2014. He welcomed the advice and 55 recommendations contained in the report saying that he envisages the implementation of the recommendations over the coming months and should “significantly improve the service to victims and survivors”.
During topical questions the First Minister was asked for his views on last week’s controversy surrounding letters issued to ‘on-the-runs’. Thomas Buchanan was keen for it to be acknowledged that the Policing Board were not aware of the administration scheme in relation to on-the-runs. Mr Robinson also agreed with Ian McCrea when he called into question the authority of the Northern Ireland Office to continue the administration scheme after the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland in 2010.
During Question Time the First Minister also answered questions on Social Investment Fund projects, Magdalene laundries, organ donation and the Sexual Orientation Strategy.