Assembly round-up

st marys protest Inter-party tensions have settled after the Stormont House Agreement and MLAs have approved a Budget for 2015-2016. In an historic step, the Assembly has also appointed its first nationalist Speaker.

After a long Christmas recess, the Assembly’s first plenary took place on 12 January. Mitchel McLaughlin, as Principal Deputy Speaker, confirmed royal assent for the Education Act and Work and Families Act before the recent terrorism in Paris was discussed as the matter of the day.

The initiative to express condolences was taken by UUP MLA Danny Kinahan, who said: “If we believe in a free society, rather than in a theocracy of any denomination, we must defend the Enlightenment values of free speech, freedom of democracy, liberty, equality and fraternity from all others.”

Sam Gardiner, as the oldest member of the House, then invited nominations for the post of Speaker which has been vacant since William Hay’s resignation on 14 September last year. The sitting deputy speakers – McLaughlin, Dallat and Beggs – were each nominated by their parties.

“As a Derryman taking over from William Hay, a Londonderryman, this represents yet another symbolic, important step towards equality and inclusiveness,” Martin McGuinness stated. McLaughlin was duly elected by 72 votes to 14. While the DUP supported his election, the party questioned his first decision in office which was taken the next day i.e. a refusal to refer a petition on the Collegiate Grammar School to the Executive.

Simon Hamilton presented the Budget on 19 January. “In many respects,” he said, “the most difficult decisions on public spending have yet to come. No one wants cuts, but, in agreeing this Budget, we have done the right thing. We have accepted the realities that we face and have done what we can to protect and support what is important to our people.”

Robin Newton succeeded Mitchel McLaughlin as Principal Deputy Speaker on 20 January. Newton was the sole nominee for the position and was supported by the DUP and Sinn Féin. The other parties acknowledged his suitability but opposed his appointment claiming that the post was a ‘carve-up’ between the two main parties.

As the NI Water dispute came to a head, Danny Kennedy welcomed the positive tone of the latest meeting between unions and management and emphasised that it was “not … acceptable that households are left without essential water supplies for extended periods, particularly given the weather conditions.” A deal was reached on the following day.

Meanwhile, Steven Agnew brought his Children’s Services Co-operation Bill forward to its second stage on

26 January. The Bill would create a duty for departments to co-operate on children’s services and passed its second stage without going to a vote. The real challenge for Agnew will now be to ensure that it gets through the committee and consideration stages before the May 2016 election.

Canvassing for the general election is already under way and the campaign will officially begin on 30 March. Most MLAs will be supporting their Westminster candidates from that point onwards. The next two months can be seen as a real opportunity to lobby and get business through the Assembly before Westminster becomes the main focus of attention.

Major debates
Date Subject Result
12 January Speaker: election of Mitchel McLaughlin Resolved (72-12)
13 January Education: maximum budget autonomy for schools Resolved (no-vote)
19 January Finance: define and protect core public services Resolved (no-vote)
26 January Children’s services Co-operation Bill: second stage Resolved (no vote)
27 January Finance: Budget 2015-2016 Resolved (56-30)
Stormont diary
13 February Agriculture: remote sensing
18 February Education: teacher education strategy
25 February Employment: learning disabilities
3 March Enterprise: tourism briefing
4 March Health: elective surgery
11 March Finance: Barnett formula
General election campaign
28 March Start of Assembly recess
30 March Dissolution of Parliament
5 April Easter Sunday
12 April End of Assembly recess
4 May May bank holiday
7 May Polling day
Bill tracker
Executive Bill Stage
Education Committee
Food Hygiene rating Committee
Insolvency (Amendment) Committee
Justice Committee
Off-Street Parking Further consideration (26 January)
Pensions Committe
Regeneration Committee
REservoirs Committee
Road Traffic (Amendment) Committee
Welfare Reform Committee
Non-Executive Bill Stage
Children’s Services Co-operation Second (26 January)
Road Traffic (Speed Limits) First (9 December 2013)
New Acts
Education Act (11 December)
Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims (13 January)
Work and Families (8 January)

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