Business at the Assembly in September was largely overshadowed by disputes over welfare reform and the Budget around the Executive table.
With Speaker William Hay being absent due to illness, Principal Deputy Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin took the chair. Hay subsequently announced his retirement, to take effect on 13 October. Sinn Féin’s Sue Ramsey will also stand down, on 3 November, due to ill-health.
The genuine sense of crisis increased the widespread cynicism about the Assembly and led to many members of the public questioning Stormont’s effectiveness. The Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts Bill was the only Bill to make progress through the Assembly this month. It passed its consideration stage on 30 September.
The long list of outstanding issues now includes the Budget. With finances constrained, difficult choices must be made rather than being postponed. University of Ulster economist Neil Gibson has called for every option to be put on table to encourage an honest debate about the size and shape of government Members from North Belfast praised Carl Frampton on winning the super-bantamweight world table. MLAs also debated the Social Development Committee’s initial report into last July’s BBC Spotlight investigation.
The report claimed that Nelson McCausland deliberately misled the committee – an accusation strongly denied by the DUP. When the report went to a vote, it was approved by 57 votes to 36 but the result was overruled by a DUP petition of concern.
The House adjourned on 15 September as a mark of respect for Ian Paisley. The DUP founder entered the Northern Ireland House of Commons – which sat in the same chamber as today’s Assembly – in 1970 and represented North Antrim in each of its successors until his retirement in 2011.
Over the course of the month, warm tributes were paid to former MLAs Sam Foster and George Savage as well as former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. Speaking of his former leader, Peter Robinson remarked: “He no longer sits among us, but we are entrusted with his legacy and stirred by his injunction to finish the course and do our bit in securing lasting peace and stability for the land he loved so much.”
Martin McGuinness added: “I think that Ian Paisley, whatever about his past, did a magnificent service for our young people and for the future. For that, I am proud to be associated with him.”
After the Scottish referendum result, Mike Nesbitt looked forward to a “greater Britain that is fit for the 21st century and a United Kingdom of which Northern Ireland is more solidly a part than ever before.” Alex Attwood noted: “From our point of view, we will argue for the maximisation of devolution here, and it is the people of Scotland who have opened the doors to all of that.”
The UUP’s call for a new Budget received backing from the SDLP but was rejected by 70 votes to 19. The debate, though, focused attention on the need for the Executive to decide its financial priorities.
|8 September||Housing: Social Development Committee report into BBC Spotlight investigation||Negative
(petition of concern)
|9 September||Europe: OFMDFM Committee inquiry into the Barroso task force||Resolved
|16 September||Health: call for progress on Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit and cardiac centre||Resolved
|22 September||Education: rejection of Collegiate Grammar and Portora Royal merger||Resolved
|23 September||Social security: opposition to UK Government welfare cuts||Negatived
|14 October||Enterprise: electricity policy review|
|15 October||Health: adult safeguarding|
|16 October||Culture: arts in working class areas|
|22 October||Employment: economic inactivity|
|12 November||Justice: policing and criminal evidence|
|18 November||Agriculture: relocation of DARD HQ|
|19 November||Education: free school meals and funding|
|24 October||Rising for Halloween recess|
|3 November||Return from Halloween recess|
|12 December||Rising for Christmas recess|
|5 January||Return from Christmas recess|
|Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts|
|Road Traffic (Amendment)||Committee|
|Work and Families||Committee|
|Human Trafficking etc||Committee|
|Road Traffic (Speed Limits)||First (9 Dec 2013)|
|Budget (No.2) (30 June)|