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Summary

  1. The new Infrastructure Minister, Chris Hazzard, briefed the committee.
  2. Department officials also briefed the committee on roads and rivers, including Belfast Rapid Transit project.
  3. The First and Deputy First Minister and Junior Ministers briefed the executive office committee.

Live Reporting

By Brooke Allen and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

Good afternoon

Mr Nesbitt adjourns the committee.

That's it for our coverage of Wednesday's proceedings at the Northern Ireland Assembly at sunny Stormont.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
BBC

Join us again tomorrow morning from 10:30 BST.

In the meantime, have a good evening.

Keano or Kyle?

Mr Nesbitt promised earlier he would end on a "provocative" note and asks the question: "Robbie Keane or Kyle Lafferty?"

Mrs Foster says: "You are asking a Fermanagh person, Robbie Keane or Kyle Lafferty... Kyle Lafferty!"

Kyle Lafferty
Press Eye

"What about Robbie Keane and Kyle Lafferty?" asks Mr McGuinness.

"You pick Robbie Keane and I'll pick Kyle Lafferty," laughs the first minister.

Mrs Foster says she is travelling to the Northern Ireland vs Poland match on Sunday, but Mr McGuinness is staying at home as he will be answering questions in the assembly the next day.

Deadline to register for EU vote extended

The deadline for registering to vote in the EU referendum has been extended, the government has said.

View more on twitter
View more on twitter

It follows a computer glitch which left some people unable to sign up before the original midnight Tuesday deadline.

'We are a great country'

The DUP's Philip Logan says it is "important to sell Northern Ireland on the world stage", adding: "We are a great country!"

He asks what mechanism the executive use to distribute companies coming into Northern Ireland.

Philip Logan
BBC

Mrs Foster says: "Invest NI will work with companies who have expressed interest in coming in to Northern Ireland."

"It is up to the investor where they want to be placed," she says.

Mr McGuinness makes reference to issues in particular constituencies and says in this PfG "we intend to do it in the fairest possible way".

Social investment fund 'a learning curve'

Christopher Stalford of the DUP asks about the £80m social investment fund, set up in 2011 to tackle inequality and unemployment.

He asks how they react "when senior politicians have referred to this as a paramilitary slush fund".

Christopher Stalford
BBC

The executive has been criticised for the length of time it has taken to allocate the money, but Mr McGuinness says "it has been a learning curve for everybody".

"It was a new idea and we were very careful to ensure that under no circumstances did any paramilitary get their hands on any of the money," he adds.

Mental health trauma service

The DUP's Pam Cameron, the only woman on the committee, asks for an update on the mental health trauma service.

Mrs Foster says she hopes that will be augmented by the Peace IV application for 17.6m euros of funding.

Pam Cameron
BBC

"We are hoping that will get approval from the EU and allow us to draw this money down," she says.

She describes how she hopes this will be "an integrated model between the victims sector and the Department of Health" as it will be an "innovative and new way of working and one that will make a real difference".

Syrian refugees 'close to our hearts'

Sinn Féín's Ian Milne asks about victims of conflict from Syria and groups of immigrants coming to Northern Ireland. He asks if there are prospects of more coming in the future.

Martin Guinness says this is an issue "very close to our hearts to support those who have been through very traumatic experiences".

Syrian refugees
AP

Junior Minister Megan Fearon says she and the deputy first minister met with refugees who have been based in Belfast and they have settled in well.

However, many of them have "complex needs medically, physically and emotionally" and so there are case workers working alongside them.

She says "there is no exact timeline" for more groups of people coming in to Northern Ireland.

McGuinness 'surprise' over Kingsmills print

Mr McGuinness says he finds it "absolutely incredible" it took someone 40 years to come up with a palm print in relation to the Kingsmills massacre.

Police are to re-open their inquiry into the killing of 10 Protestant workmen in South Armagh after the print was found on a getaway van.

Kingsmills van
PA

The deputy first minister expresses surprise about the palm print development, but Mr Nesbitt asks him not to say anything else in case it was sub judice.

An inquest into the deaths is currently being carried out.

Delivering better broadband provision

Danny Kennedy asks about increased broadband provision, particularly for businesses. He asks what the executive can do to accelerate that because it is an "issue of real importance to the local economy".

Internet cables
Thinks

Ms Foster says the difficulty with broadband is that "when we are given our targets from Ofcom, they are based on population density" and so this "leaves the rural areas struggling".

She says that Ofcom is looking in to setting up "a dedicated Northern Ireland office in terms of how we deliver communications better in Northern Ireland".

Opportunity to 'find a way forward'

On dealing with the past, Mr McGuinness says "the difficulty we face centres around the fact that there are victims groups out there who believe that the use of the term 'British national security' is really an attempt by the British government to prevent them getting full disclosure".

"I am one of those within the process who believes that if the mechanisms through the Historcial Investigations Unit (HIU) are to be meaningful then everybody that was part of the conflict has to make a contribution to support the requests from families around what happened to their loved ones," he says.

He adds that the issue "needs to be resolved before the summer".

"The elections are over. There is an opportunity now to find a way forward."

Dealing with the past

Ulster Unionist and committee deputy chair Danny Kennedy asks about the up-to-date situation on legacy issues, as they were omitted from the Fresh Start Agreement.

Danny Kennedy
BBC

"Agreement was not able to be reached at that time," Ms Foster says. 

"We will attempt to revisit this issue on dealing with the past in the next couple of weeks, with a view to try to bring it to a conclusion."

PfG approach 'finds favour with public'

On the approach to the PfG, Mr McGuinness says "nobody was in the dark, there was no attempt by anyone to pull the wool over anyone's eyes as to what type of approach it was".

"We are absolutely convinced that the approach that we have adopted is one that not only has found favour with the public, but is one that the public will engage with over the course of the consultation period and that will lead to better outcomes," he adds.

'Squashing' the EU rumours

Mr Nesbitt says there are "persistent rumours" that the first minister is in favour of a Remain vote in the EU referendum.

Arlene Foster
BBC

She says: "I will take that opportunity to squash [those rumours]".

"I have given a number of interviews endorsing the Leave campaign, so I'm not quite sure where those rumours have come from."

Milking it

Cows
AFP

The DUP's Christopher Stalford says the late Mr Paisley's exact words on the EU were: "We'll milk the cow before we slaughter it."

"Dr Paisley had his own particular style," Mrs Foster jokes.

'We'll take their money'

Mr Nesbitt raises the point that one of the listed functions of the Executive Office is to advice to ministers and the civil service on "maximising the benefits of the EU".

He asks if the department accepts if there are benefits of remaining in the EU.

The Union and EU flags
PA

Mrs Foster, who backs a Leave vote in this month's referendum, refers to the view of her former party leader Ian Paisley.

"We may not like Europe but when we're there we'll take as much of their money as we can get out," she says.

"That's the case certainly up to the 23 June."

PFG 'will be meaningful to people'

Arlene Foster says she is glad about "the fact that only those enthusiastic about being in government are taking their places".

Martin McGuinness
BBC

Mr McGuinness says the "approach and style" of the next programme for government (PFG) "will be different" and there will be a "much clearer idea of what we want to achieve".

He says that will be laid out in "terms that are meaningful to people rather than those in this administration".

'Full team' of Executive Office ministers

First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister martin McGuinness, and junior ministers Alastair Ross, of the DUP, and Megan Fearon, of Sinn Féin, are appearing before the committee.

The Executive Committee
BBC

Mrs Foster makes her opening remarks in this ministerial briefing to the committee members.

Executive Committee sitting

Welcome back to our assembly coverage.

Mike Nesbitt
BBC

The Executive Office committee is sitting now, with Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt in the chair.  

Lunchtime

The committee has been adjourned, just in time for lunch.

We will return from 14:00 BST with live coverage of the Committee for the Executive Office. 

Committee members will receive a briefing from the First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and junior ministers, Alastair Ross and Megan Fearon.

Irwin set to leave committee

Mr Humphrey thanks the committee deputy-chair, his party colleague William Irwin, "for his sterling work".

William irwin
BBC

He says Mr Irwin will be "leaving us and forsaking me" and will be replaced next week when he "returns to his natural home in agriculture".

'We want that wow factor'

Mr McNulty of the SDLP asks about the department's expectations for the numbers of people moving from using private to public transport as a result of the BRT scheme.

"We would expect about a 35% increase on the number of people on public transport on those routes," Mr de Búrca says.

"The whole thing is to grow the system because the more people that use it, the more efficient it becomes.

A BRT bus
Department of Infrastructure

Mr de Búrca worked on implementing Dublin's Luas tram system and he says original passenger number projections were "outgrown by five-fold".

"I would hope we have exactly the same type of success," he adds.

"When people see this, they'll say: 'I want to use this.' We want that wow factor."

MLA finds getting to Stormont 'really difficult'

People Before Profit Alliance's Eamonn McCann says he uses public transport all the time as he does not drive.

Stormont
Press Eye

He says getting to Stormont is "really difficult by public transport and there is no coordination between the buses and trains that come from Derry and the local buses."

"A great job of work needs to be done on that," he adds.

On the buses...

Mr Girvan of the DUP raises the issue of bus lanes, admitting he's not a "convert" to the idea of them, and asks are measures in place "to ensure [bus lane] cameras are not just set up as revenue generators".

Mr de Búrca says about 42,000 bus lane fines have been imposed to date.

A bus lane in Belfast
BBC

"They are set up to have people obey the rules, to reduce congestion for the buses because the buses are carrying huge numbers of people into [Belfast].

"Approximate half the people coming into the city centre now are coming in other than by private car."

Plans are 'all singing, all dancing'

Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer says the plans for the BRT project seem "all singing, all dancing".

She asks about the expansion of routes on the scheme and makes particular reference to Dunmurry constituents getting to Dundonald for appointments at the Ulster Hospital.

Ulster Hospital
Pacemaker

Mr de Búrca says: "We will be using the Colin town centre to develop a hub there where people will come in from within the various estates within that area and then transferred on the higher capacity vehicles in and out of town.

"We are providing feeder services for the local areas," he adds.

Relationship with Belfast City Council

William Humphrey asks if the department officials are certain that they are not spending money on the BRT project now that may go to waste in a couple of years.

In his response, Mr de Búrca says they are content there is no cash going to waste.

Mr Humphrey also asks about the relationship with Belfast City Council.

Mr de Búrca says that is working "extremely well".

"We put in place a very high level reference group and they look at the job at a very strategic level.

"We also have a stakeholder forum in Belfast City Council and Chamber of Trade and Commerce - there are about 15 different organisations represented in that," he says.

'Book your tickets'

Mr Humphrey asks: "When will the first paying patrons be able to step on the very first of these revolutionary [BRT] vehicles?"

Mr de Búrca tells him it'll all be ready to go in September 2018.  

"Book your tickets now," the committee chair jokes.

A5 and A6 'top priorities'

Mr Pat Doherty gives a brief overview of the A5 and A6 road schemes.

Pat Doherty
BBC

He says they are "top priorities for the minister and the department".

Routes for the project

Mr de Búrca talks about the various routes for the project.

Ciarán de Búrca
BBC

He says "we see this as a transformational project, linking the east and west together".

'A long streak of misery'

Money
BBC

Ciarán de Búrca tells the committee that it appears there will be a saving of about £10m on the proposed cost for the BRT project.

"The outline business case just came in at about £100m and was approved by the executive in 2012," he says.

"We now look like we've reduced that cost to approximately £90m."

And he says he has always described the scheme as "a long streak of misery", given the disruption it is likely to cause during construction.

"It's about 20km and we've bits of work to do all along the stretch of the route, so it is quite disruptive as far as businesses and residents are concerned."

Belfast Rapid Transit project

Ciarán de Búrca talks about the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) project.

 "The need to facilitate transport is always seen as one of the important basic facts that you have to have in place for the economic growth of the city," he says.

According to statistics from the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, he says, "40% of households in Belfast do not have access to a car".

Roads and rivers

MLAs and department officials in the Senate chamber
BBC

Department officials Dr Andrew Murray (deputy secretary, Roads and Rivers Group), Mr Pat Doherty (director, Engineering) and Mr Ciarán de Búrca (director, TNI Transport Projects and Business Services Division) are now briefing the committee on roads and rivers.

Bain: Public losing confidence in Stormont complaints process

Mark Devenport

BBC News NI Political Editor

The commissioner who investigates complaints against MLAs believes the public is losing confidence in the Stormont complaints system.

In his annual report, Douglas Bain is recommending changes to the way complaints are handled.

These include the appointment of members of the public to the Assembly committee that decides whether MLAs have broken the Stormont rules.

Stormont
BBC

Last year, Mr Bain received just 14 complaints about MLAs' behaviour, down dramatically from 53 the previous year.

He is suggesting MLAs should end what he calls their current party-political approach.

He wants a ban on the use of Assembly vetoes - or Petitions of Concern - to stop politicians being punished for breaking the rules.

Such a petition was used to prevent any sanction against the DUP's Sammy Wilson.

Mr Bain also wants Stormont to follow the example of Westminster, where seven members of the public sit alongside seven MPs on the committee charged with maintaining parliamentary standards.

Back in the council chamber?

"Everything has seemed to be local and at times I thought I was sitting in a council meeting," jokes the DUP's Paul Girvan, in a reference to requests by other committee members about potholes and grass-cutting in their own constituencies.

Paul Girvan
BBC

He suggests there is a need to be "imaginative" with new infrastructure schemes, and asks when there will be a "proper debate" about prioritising the budget for those.

Mr Hazzard says: "I want to approach this from an angle where nothing is off the table".

Fresh focus to the A5 and A6

Sinn Féin's Declan McAleer talks about the development of the A5 and A6 and asks when people will actually see things happening.

Mr Hazzard says: "I would like to think that the A6 will begin in a matter of weeks, if not a very few short months".

Road signs at the A5
BBC

"With the A5, we are looking at next year, 2017," he says.

The minister says he will give the A5 and A6 the "fresh focus" it needs.

"I think in recent years they maybe slipped off the radar of the previous minister and it something I want to address."

Exploring 'innovative solutions'

The DUP's William Irwin, the committee deputy-chair, raises concerns about grass cutting at major road junctions.

Dr Andrew Murray says the department should be cutting the sight lines at junctions and "if there are any missing, please bring those to our attention".

William Irwin
BBC

Mr Irwin also asks about the "criteria in and around potholes".   

Dr Murray says "we have had to reduce the inspection frequency for potholes" due to budgetary constraints but money may become available in the June Monitoring Round.

The minister says we need to "explore innovative solutions" and different approaches to these issues.

'Come to Derry, take the train!'

People Before Profit Alliance's Eamonn McCann invites the minister to visit the Waterside rail station in Londonderry.

The Foyle MLA says he wants the disused building to be revitalised "as a rail terminus fit for a regional capital".

Eamonn McCann
BBC

"The building opened in 1874, was designed by John Lanyon, it is one of the architectural jewels in Derry," Mr McCann adds.

"Come down by train, come down through Downhill and Castlerock and you'll arrive dizzy from what you've just seen!"

Former PUP chairman William 'Plum' Smith dies

Former loyalist paramilitary and Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) chairman William 'Plum' Smith has died.

William Smith
Pacemaker

Mr Smith served as the chairman of the PUP and was part of the party's negotiating team around the Good Friday Agreement.

'It is about prioritisation'

The SDLP's Justin McNulty expresses concerns about inadequate rail provision and speaks particularly about the Newry line.

He also asks about potholes on rural roads in Newry and Armagh.

Justin McNulty
BBC

The minister says "the programme of repairs is ongoing".

"Again, it is about prioritisation, it's about utilizing whatever money we have so we get the best value out of it - I intend to do that - and rural roads will certainly be part of that package", he adds.

Rural road repairs

The Alliance Party's Kellie Armstrong speaks about cuts to funding and asks: "How are you going to ensure, as a matter of road safety, that rural roads are repaired?"

Mr Hazzard says he is "very sympathetic" to the issue as he is from a rural area, adding that he will "look at a infrastructure deficit in rural areas".

Kellie Armstrong
BBC

"Patching over patches is a difficult thing to live with", says Ms Armstrong.

She says constituents are claiming for damages to their cars on a daily basis.

Chairperson's concerns

Mr Humphrey asks about the backlog of traffic on the York Street flyover in Belfast.

Dr Andrew Murray says the York Street scheme is now "entirely dependent on funding".

Dr Andrew Murray
BBC

"We have a two-phase contract in place which will advance the contract to a certain stage and will leave it effectively shovel-ready whenever it comes to funding," he says.

The Committee chairperson also asks if north and south Belfast will be included in the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) project, as the project already benefits east and north Belfast.

Dr Murray says details on the BRT will be included in his later presentation.