Public Affairs

Assembly round-up

thumb-large-31 The increasingly tense atmosphere at Stormont was tempered by tributes to Ian Paisley and other former members. Members made little progress on legislation or the Budget.

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.

Major debates
Date Subject Result
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
(no vote)
16 September Health: call for progress on Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit and cardiac centre Resolved
(no vote)
22 September Education: rejection of Collegiate Grammar and Portora Royal merger Resolved
(47-32)
23 September Social security: opposition to UK Government welfare cuts Negatived
(54-36)
Stormont diary
Committees
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
Recess dates
24 October Rising for Halloween recess
3 November Return from Halloween recess
12 December Rising for Christmas recess
5 January Return from Christmas recess
Bill tracker
Executive Bill Stage
Education Committee
Justice Committee
Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts  
Reservoirs Committee
Road Traffic (Amendment) Committee
Welfare Reform Committee
Work and Families Committee
Non-Executive Bill Stage
Human Trafficking etc Committee
Road Traffic (Speed Limits) First (9 Dec 2013)
New Act
Budget (No.2) (30 June)
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