Assembly round-up

Stormont sky Sm While Stormont was quieter than usual during the election campaign, the disputes over Gerry Adams’ arrest and respect for racial minorities caused deep division at the start and the end of the month.

Almost all MLAs were on the campaign trail with their European and council candidates during May, resulting in a relative lull at Stormont.

The Assembly’s debate on access to cancer drugs on 6 May touched on an important issue for many constituents. Edwin Poots proposed a small prescription charge to raise revenue for a drugs fund, to tackle cancer and rare diseases. Poots commented that an Executive paper outlining his proposal has been with OFMDFM for several months but had not yet been approved.

A Sinn Féin motion on 12 May protested that the UK Department for Transport’s heavy goods levy would have “a deeply negative impact” on hauliers on both sides of the border. The SDLP’s Colum Eastwood pointed out that Mark H Durkan and Irish Transport Minister Leo Varadkar were already lobbying the UK Government on the issue.

The arrest of Gerry Adams was briefly raised at justice questions on 19 May. David Ford was satisfied that police officers “behaved entirely properly” despite criticism from Sinn Féin.

Welfare reform continues to divide the Assembly. The decision to abandon the Education and Skills Authority, though, resolves one dispute although it will effectively undo the Education Bill. The Minister can merge the five education and library boards into one under existing legislation.

That said, the perception that the Executive is ‘doing nothing’ is not an accurate one. Non-contentious bills are going through the House fairly quickly and covering issues that matter to the public, including road safety, parental leave and the cost of legal aid.

Claire Sugden has been co-opted to replace David McClarty as independent unionist MLA for East Londonderry. Meanwhile, the future of NI21 is unclear after the public arguments between Basil McCrea and John McCallister. Under the St Andrews Agreement, MLAs are barred from changing their designation before the next Assembly election.

The post-election week was dominated by the controversy over Pastor James McConnell, whose comments were condemned by senior politicians and also rejected by the leaders of the main Protestant churches. Anna Lo’s decision to stand down at the next election caused dismay and highlighted the continued threat of racism in our society.

On a relevant note, in an earlier debate in the month, Jonathan Bell recalled the generous welcome he received when he had visited Poland as a student. Polish families “had very little money in 1989 but what they had, they shared with me.” The Junior Minister added: “I want our culture to afford our ethnic minorities the exact same as they afforded me.”

Major debates
Date Subject Result
6 May Health: call on Minister to review access to cancer drugs in Northern Ireland Resolved (no vote)
12 May Transport: call for exemption from UK heavy goods levy for Northern Ireland hauliers Negatived (39-32)
13 May Community relations: discussion of Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report Resolved
27 May Assembly: discussion of Procedures Committee review of the business week Resolved
Stormont diary
4 June Health: GP out-of-hours services
5 June Culture: events strategy briefing
11 June Regional Development: cycling
11 June Justice: organised crime strategy
17 June Agriculture: welfare of farmers
18 June Education: shared education
18 June Health: TYC and older people
19 June Environment: ministerial briefing
26 June Social Development: homelessness
Summer recess
4 July House rises
1 September House returns
Bill tracker
Executive Bill Stage
Welfare Reform Committee
Education Committee
Reservoirs Committee
Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts Committee
Work and Families Committee
Road Traffic (Amendment) Committee
Non-Executive Bill Stage
Human Trafficking etc Committee
Road Traffic (Speed Limits) First (9 December)
1-26-2N2ew Acts
Licensing of Pavement Cafés (12 May)
Local Government (12 May)

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