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Summary

  1. MLAs debated a UUP call for the appointment of a Mental Health Champion.
  2. Education Minister Peter Weir made a statement on GCSE grading.
  3. Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard made a statement on the Rural Road Initiative.
  4. The Committee on Standards and Privileges brought a motion on the registration of members' interests.
  5. Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen and Communities Minister Paul Givan appeared at Question Time.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Brooke Allen

All times stated are UK

Good evening

Stormont Live will return tomorrow from 10:00 BST with coverage of the Economy Committee. 

Committee members will receive briefings from Invest NI and Tourism NI. 

Until then, have a good evening. 

Assembly adjourned

Assembly logo
BBC

As it is the last plenary sitting of the assembly before the summer recess, the Deputy Speaker Patsy McGlone wishes members "a restful recess period, given that we have just come out of an election followed by a referendum". 

The assembly is adjourned. 

Situation has been 'badly handled'

In her response to the debate, the Health Minister, Michelle O'Neill, says she "recognises that the situation has been badly handled". 

The minister talks about budgetary constraints in her department but say wants to transform the health care system and provide support for people with learning disabilities. 

She says she takes the issue seriously and will be engaging with the families involved. 

"I want to see a change in picture," she says.   

A 'massive blow' to families

Gary Middleton of the DUP says this is "not all about finance", but rather people will not get back the time with their family members and the support they missed out on 

Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew says "this [situation] has nearly been treated as a bereavement" as people thought the funds were not available and now have found out that they were. 

"This has been a massive blow to families", she says. 

Issue 'didn't just drop out of the sky'

Michaela Boyle
BBC

Sinn Féin's Michaela Boyle says she met trust officials on 20 May for a briefing in relation to "how this underspend came about" and that the trust said it was down to a "resettlement programme, going back a number of years". 

The SDLP's Mark Durkan says "this issue didn't just drop out of the sky" but it was "never confirmed". 

"Now, finally, it has been confirmed by the trust that there has been a huge underspend in this area," he says. 

'The Western Trust and the Case of the Missing Millions'

The DUP's Thomas Buchanan says this "reads like a children's mystery book entitled 'The Western Trust and the Case of the Missing Millions', yet unfortunately this is not a case of fiction". 

He says that the "most vulnerable in our society have been discriminated against and let down by the trust" and says there must be a "robust intervention" and the Trust should be "held to account" for what has been done. 

A '20-year scandal'

Ross Hussey
BBC

Mr Hussey says he was contacted in April this year by a member of his constituency of West Tyrone, who highlighted the underspend of £8m on adult learning disability services. 

Furthermore, he says there have been claims that over the last 20 years, "over £100m has not been allocated to the parents or to suffers of adult learning disabilities". 

"If that is the case, shame on us," he says.   

"This is a 20-year scandal," he says, "now is time for us to uncover the truth".

Community groups and Brexit

Regarding the result of the EU referendum, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly asks the minister how he intends "helping the many voluntary and community groups who rely on the funding from the EU".

Mr Givan says work is already underway within his department, but that the Executive Office "will lead on this".

He says that for the community groups - "like everybody, uncertainty can create anxiety and we need to give them the best support that we possibly can".

Benefit fraud

Job centre
BBC

In reply to a question from the DUP's William Humphrey, the minister tells members that investigators detect £50m off benefit fraud each year.

Sinn Féin's Fra McCann puts it to Mr Givan that more money is lost in departmental error than in fraud.

The minister says Mr McCann has a point. 

He says "it is important that we don't stigmatise people who receive payments in error".

NI MEPs 'won't turn backs on Europe'

Martina Anderson and Diane Dodds
BBC

Two Northern Ireland MEPs say they are not turning their backs on Europe in the wake of the EU referendum.

The DUP's Diane Dodds tells the European Parliament the EU and the UK can work closely together, while Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson pleads for Northern Ireland to be allowed to stay in the EU.

Welfare advice

Trevor Lunn of Alliance asks about the additional welfare advice support recommended by the welfare reform mitigations working group.

Mr Givan says the department has allocated £8m over four years for advice services, and they are currently finalising arrangements with the service suppliers. 

Communities Questions

Paul Givan
BBC

Communities Minister Paul Givan is answering questions from members.

Brexit and the environment

Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin asks about the impact of the EU referendum on existing environmental legislation.

Mrs McIlveen says "it's still very early to have a clear picture".

Mr Sheehan asks if the assembly will have to develop local environmental legislation.

"It very much depends on the outworkings of the negotiated exit," the minister says.

Farmers and the EU referendum

farm
BBC

Justin McNulty of the SDLP asks the minister if farmers will continue to receive their Single Farm Payment.

Miss McIlveen says "the outworkings of the result last Friday are being worked through".

She says the majority of farmers supported a Leave vote in the referendum "primarily due to reasons of red tape and bureaucracy",

Larne oil spill

Caterpillar factory
BBC

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs asks the minister for her assessment of the severity of the recent oil spill in the sea off Larne, County Antrim.

Miss McIlveen says the diesel involved is a light oil and evaporated quickly.

She says that Caterpillar NI (the company responsible for the spill) "will be required to put in place safeguards to ensure this sort of incident cannot happen in the future". 

Question Time

Michelle McIlveen
BBC

Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen is answering members' questions.

Back at 2pm

Today's business is progressing faster than expected so the assembly is taking a short break.

We resume at 14:00 BST with Question Time.

Pleased with 'such a constructive debate'

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson says she is "pleased this has been such a constructive debate". 

The motion and amendment both pass on an oral vote. 

O'Neill to become 'Executive's mental health champion'

Michelle O'Neill
BBC

Mrs O'Neill outlines recent improvements to mental health services and additions in investment, and says she "hopes to achieve political consensus on how we transform the health service". 

The minister talks about the appointment of a mental health champion and says she will be "the Executive's mental health champion".  

"I am open to considering the benefits of the appointment of an independent mental health champion who would defend the rights and interests of people with mental health problems," she says. 

However, in terms of who might take the role, the minister says we "need to give it a bit more attention".  

She thanks members for the "tone of the debate". 

The minister responds

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill says "we have a long way to go". 

She says it is important for people with mental health problems to be able to "access the right treatment at the right time" and says it is clear we need to continue to carry out "investment in this area". 

PTSD

Paula Bradley of the DUP says it is "without any great surprise" that one in four people in Northern Ireland is suffering from mental ill health given the experience of the Troubles. 

She speaks about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and that she is proud to say "I am the mother of a serving soldier".

Paula Bradley
BBC

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan welcomes the motion and the amendment.

He says that some "existing, overworked" organisations operating in the field of mental health might "balk at" the postion of mental health champion being funded by charitable contributions.

Paula Bradshaw supports the motion on behalf of the Alliance Party.

She, too, questions the need for philanthropic funding.

The Sinn Féin amendment

Catherine Seeley
BBC

Catherine Seeley of Sinn Féin introduces her party's amendment.

This suggests that mental ill health has been influenced by "austerity and the increased levels of unemployment and homelessness and that the issue is now inter-generational". 

Time to look to new era - Dodds

Mark Devenport

BBC News NI Political Editor

Diane Dodds
BBC

The people of the UK have given their verdict in the EU referendum and it cannot be re-written, DUP MEP Diane Dodds tells the European Parliament in Brussels. 

She says it's time to look forward to a new era, one in which the EU and the UK can work closely and calmly for the benefit of everyone. 

Britannia waives the rules - Anderson

Mark Devenport

BBC News NI Political Editor

Martina Anderson
BBC

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson tells the European Parliament that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and she makes an impassioned plea for it to be allowed to stay in.

"If English votes drag us out of the EU, that would be like Britannia waives the rules," she said. 

Mental Health Champion

Robbie Butler
BBC

Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler introduces his party's motion calling for the introduction of a mental health champion.

The proposal would see the position paid for by "charitable and philanthropic contributions".

Mr Butler says Northern Ireland suffers from levels of poor mental health "comparable to the world's worst-affected areas".

Motion passes

The motion passes on an oral vote. 

'Be mindful of your behaviour'

Doug Beattie
BBC

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie welcomes the motion and says it is "clear and self-explanatory to anyone who reads it". 

Making specific reference to respect in the house during yesterday's Brexit debate, Mr Beattie says "there must be something here that holds people to account if they fall below standards". 

"Be mindful of your behaviour. If people are looking at us from the outside, how are they going to trust us if we get on like that," he says. 

Motions are 'progressive'

Sinn Féin's Sean Lynch says the motions are welcomed and are "progressive in it's outlook". 

"Respect and consideration hasn't always been shown at all times in this house, however I hope things can and will change in this mandate," he says. 

Motion: Code of conduct

Cathal Boylan
BBC

The chairperson of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Cathal Boylan, brings to the house a motion on the code of conduct of assembly members. 

The motion proposes that the assembly affirms its commitment to high ethical standards and to the code of conduct of members as agreed by the Assembly. 

It also proposes that MLAs should register in the assembly's Register of Members' Interests. 

Finally, the amendment notes that the Committee on Standards and Privileges will update the guide to the rules to take account of amendments. 

The motions pass

All of the motions pass on an oral vote. 

Cross party support

Communities Committee Chairperson, Michelle Gildernew, recommends that the order and regulations are approved by the assembly.   

The DUP's Jonathan Bell, also says the motions are welcomed by "all sides of the house". 

Motions on pension schemes

Notes and coins
PA

The Minister for Communities, Paul Givan, is now bringing to the house four motions on pension schemes. 

He says the amendments are "essentially technical in nature rather than implementing substantive policy measures". 

'Idiot-proof'

Colin McGrath of the SDLP asks if schools were consulted about the changes.

Mr Weir says "there has been considerable feedback that we've got from earlier decisions from schools, many of whom wanted this sorted".

Stewart Dickson of Alliance says the mixture of numbers and letters is confusing, and it needs to be made clear for employers and higher education providers.

The minister says an explanatory grid has been prepared that is "idiot-proof" and that even he can understand it.

'Not looking for revolution'

Exams
Other

Ulster Unionist Rosemary Barton asks whether it would not be simpler to adopt the English grading system.

The minister says this would need years of work and is "not something that could be done, even if it were desirable".

Education Committee chairperson Barry McElduff of Sinn Féin asks how the announcement is "pupil-centred".

"I wasn't looking for revolution in this," Mr Weir says.

"It's about giving this level of choice to people."

Exam boards reverse their decision

Pupils doing exams
BBC

Mr Weir explains that in order to retain alignment between Northern Ireland and and new English numerical GCSE grades, he is proposing two changes to the grading system.

He says the A* grade will be realigned to restore its distinction "as a mark of outstanding achievement".

A new C* grade "will provide additional information on the level of attainment".

Mr Weir says that "in the light of my decision", AQA, OCR and Pearson have announced they will make their qualifications available in Northern Ireland "with immediate effect".

GCSE grading statement

Peter Weir
BBC

Education Minister Peter Weir makes a statement on the GCSE qualification market and grading.

"GCSEs form a core aspect of post-primary education in Northern Ireland," he says.

The minister says that some concerns have arisen in the light of changes in England.

The withdrawal from Northern Ireland of the the AQA, OCR and Pearson exam boards  "restricts choice for schools and pupils".

MLAs concerns for urban roads

The DUP's Alex Easton welcomes the statement and also asks if the minister will "give a guarantee that the urban [roads] network will not suffer" as the investment is going to rural roads. 

The minister says there has been a need to address an imbalance but the funds are additional and this is "not to take away from the level of spend that we will be carrying out anyway". 

Roads
BBC

The Alliance Party's Stewart Dickson also expresses concerns about urban roads as "many of which in housing developments are in exactly the same state as rural roads". 

The minister states that these are not the only funds allocated for roads and he says there is "£54m set aside for structural maintenance and that will continue in all other areas". 

Proves the minister 'is listening'

The DUP's William Humphrey asks if there are any specific areas in Northern Ireland that the minister plans to target with the £10m investment. 

The minister says the money will be "spread across the North and targeted to the areas of greatest need. Where there is greatest need, resources will be skewed". 

Declan Kearney of Sinn Féin says the minister's statement "proves he is listening" after recent adjournment debates on the condition of rural roads. 

'It's only a drop in a pothole, really'

Car driving over pothole
BB

Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer says whilst she welcomes the statement, "it's only a drop in a pothole, really". 

"That amount alone would need to be spent in my own constituency to cover the rural roads," she says.