Assembly round-up

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13906221 Members welcomed a NEETs strategy and discussed a possible review of sentencing guidelines for the murder of PSNI officers, but no legislative programme appeared, despite the looming summer recess.

A reshuffle began June’s proceedings with the replacement of junior Minister Martina Anderson by Jennifer McCann. Derry City councillor Maeve McLaughlin later replaced Anderson as MLA for Foyle.

Despite a statement in May, that a legislative programme would be outlined before the summer recess (7 July to 2 September), it had not been published at the time of going to print. It is 13 months since the last Assembly election and, during that time, nine bills have been introduced and four acts have been passed. Legislative programmes were published for each session of the last Assembly, with the first one brought out to accompany the draft Programme for Government in November 2007.

agendaNi challenged OFMDFM on this after the Queen’s speech but a spokesman said that the programme was “still being worked on”. He dismissed the previous programmes as irrelevant, as the Executive frequently missed its targets, and described the Programme for Government as the main guide to government policy.

The legislative programme is likely to include re-organising local government, establishing a single education authority, improving access to justice, tackling crime against older and vulnerable people, and eliminating air passenger duty for long-haul flights. On the first point, the draft Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012 (for the creation of 11 district councils) was resolved 59-26 on 12 June.

There are now four private member’s bills under consultation following Sandra Overend’s consultation on the redesignation of the horse as an agricultural rather than domestic animal. Such a move would allow tax reductions or exemptions to local equine businesses.

A strategy to deal with Northern Ireland’s 46,000 NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) was introduced by Stephen Farry. When asked by his Alliance Party colleague Chris Lyttle how it would be implemented in the absence of a Department for Employment and Learning, Farry insisted that DEL is taking the lead for now, with OFMDFM operating as a co-ordinating department.

An emotive motion, tabled by Jonathan Craig, called for a review of sentencing for the murder of PSNI officers in light of the 25-year and 14-year jail terms handed to the two men convicted for the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll.

David Ford told the Assembly that following the Court of Appeal’s decision on the DPP’s appeal on whether those sentences are too lenient, the Department of Justice will review legislation governing tariffs for a life sentence for murder. This will include the murder of police officers. A consultation on the formation of a sentencing guidelines council was carried out between October 2010 and January 2011. The DPP sought leave to refer the sentences given to both men to the Court of Appeal on 18 June.

Former Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland Douglas Bain was agreed as the new Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards. He will be responsible for carrying out investigations into complaints about breaches of the Assembly code of conduct. However, Jim Allister said he was “disappointed” at the choice of Bain, whom he described as someone who was part of “the quango circuit.” Tom Elliott was concerned at the speed of the selection process. Alastair Ross said that the Assembly Commission made the appointment by fair and open competition.

Members welcomed the first capital investment announcement for schools since 2010. John O’Dowd said £173 million would be invested in 18 schools (including five special school projects). A further announcement will be made in the autumn. A new school enhancement programme would allow £4 million for any project aimed at amalgamations of schools. However MLAs cited disappointment that schools in their constituencies weren’t on the list, prompting a warning from the Minister that “difficult decisions will need to be made on future investment plans.”

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