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  1. The culture and education ministers are appearing in Question Time at 2pm. You can expect questions to Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin about recently-announced cuts in the arts sector.
  2. MLAs are debating a Sinn Fein motion on increasing women's participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)
  3. The Assembly is debating the consideration stage of the Pensions Bill, which would raise the state pension age to 67.
  4. Today's adjournment debate is on neighbourhood policing in Upper Bann.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

The Assembly is adjourned

That's it from Stormont this afternoon.

Join us tomorrow morning when Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy will be appearing before the committee to discuss his department's budget allocation for 2015/16.

'Grave concerns'

The DUP's Sydney Anderson says he has "grave concerns" about the proposed changes and that there is a "risk of decimating neighbourhood policing in Upper Bann.

Sydney Anderson
Sydney Anderson

His party colleague, Stephen Moutray, says it appears to be "a budgetary exercise", and the most "retrograde step" in policing since the Patten reforms.

Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey says the changes "do not make sense".

'Unworkable' policing arrangements

Mrs Dobson says changes to neighbourhood policing services in E District are "frankly unworkable and unacceptable".

These changes, she explains, include the transfer of response teams from Portadown and Banbridge to Armagh and Lurgan.

Neighbourhood Policing across Upper Bann

Jo-Anne Dobson

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson is bringing an adjournment debate on the future of neighbourhood policing across Upper Bann.

Motion passes

The motion passes on an oral vote.

Work experience

The minister says his department is currently preparing a website to underline the importance of gaining work experience and pursue careers in science and technology.

Mr Farry says DEL is providing £71k for the "Upskilled to Compete" initiative to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects, to develop a mentoring scheme and to link businesses with schools.

'Equality of opportunity'

Stephen Farry

Employment Minister Stephen Farry addresses the gender divide in terms of certain careers - "some may say this is natural and should really not matter, but it does matter when you consider what are some of the most important and fastest growing parts of the economy".

"There is a moral or ethical aspect to this in terms of ensuring equality of opportunity," he says.

Female enrolment

The DUP's Sydney Anderson says there are some areas where female student enrolment outnumbers that of males, such as medicine, dentistry, biosciences and pharmacy.

He says universities and colleges must continue to assess their recruitment strategies and calls on business and industry to do all they can to encourage more female applicants.

'A man's game'

Sinn fein's Chris Hazzard says there is little gender disparity in terms of school results but in terms of careers there is "embedded bias about science that it is a man's game".

Chris Hazzard

'Workforce of the future'

Anna Lo of Alliance says "clearly the workforce of the future will need to be skilled in STEM to meet the growing demands from an economy increasingly dependent on ICT and innovation from research and development".

"If we fail to inspire our young females we are not maximising the potential pool of talent from both sexes," she adds.

STEM debate resumes

Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend resumes the debate on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Sandra Overend

Careers advice, she says, is key to addressing the gender imbalance in these sectors.

She notes the lack of progress on a childcare strategy, which she says the Employment Minister Stephen Farry had discussed in 2013.

Irish language and Ulster Scots

Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan suggests that it may be time for the minister to drop the "sacred cow" of the new Irish language school in Dungiven rather than cut modern languages.

"The Irish language is a modern language, and it is therefore part of the modern language provision," Mr O'Dowd replies.

Nelson McCausland of the DUP says it is a case of "you can have any language you want so long as it's Irish".

The minster says he is also committed to providing wider access to Ulster Scots.

Primary languages

The SDLP's Alex Attwood asks about the minister's decision to end funding for a modern languages programme for primary schools.

The minister says it was a matter of pressures on funding.

He says he encourages schools to continue the scheme out of their own funds, and there is also the possibility of accessing EU funds.

'A rainy day'

In reply to a question from the DUP's Michelle McIlveen, who chairs the Education Committee, the minister says the situation where schools are not spending all their funds cannot continue.

Michelle McIlveen
Michelle McIlveen

There are £47m in unspent funds.

"These are quite significant surpluses," he says.

Mr O'Dowd says some schools have told him the surpluses are "for a rainy day".

"I tell you what, it is a rainy day," he says.

Education Questions

John O'Dowd

Education Minister John O'Dowd is answering questions on the floor of the house.

Where does the blame lie?

The minister invites Alban Maginness to put the blame "where it lies, with the Westminster government".

Mr Maginness says he will put the blame in the right place "with her and with her party, and with the Executive, which passed a bad budget".

The minister describes the SDLP's attitude to the budget as "pathetic".

'Unfair and disproportionate'

The DUP's Nelson McCausland, referring to reports that Queens University is to cut funding to the Belfast Festival, says it is "almost unimaginable" that Belfast could not have a major arts festival.

The minister says she has not heard directly from the festival organisers.

She says the festival "will come back".

The SDLP's Alban Maginness says there is "palpable" anger in the arts community about funding cuts made by the Arts Council.

He quotes the playwright, Martyn Lynch, saying the cuts are "unfair and disproportionate".

'Disgraceful comments'

Jim Allister

The TUV's Jim Allister calls on the minister and Sport NI to stop the "discriminatory practice" of "refusing to fund clubs that are not affiliated to the IABA (Irish Amateur Boxing Association)".

The minister says this is not the first time Mr Allister has accused her and Sport NI of "sectarian" or "discriminatory" practices.

She says she completely refutes this, describes Mr Allister's comments as "disgraceful" and calls on him to withdraw them.

Funding for the arts

Chris Lyttle of Alliance raises the question of "the scale and level of reductions being applied to the arts in Northern Ireland".

He asks the minister what she can do to help.

Ms Ni Chuilin says she is "saddened that we are in this situation".

She advises Mr Lyttle to ask his party leader to support other executive parties to "firmly put the blame" on cuts made to the block grant by the Westminster government.

Question Time

The sitting resumes with questions to the Culture Minister, Caral Ni Chuilin.

Caral Ni Chuilin


The session is suspended for lunch. Join us again at 2pm for Question Time when Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and Education Minister John O'Dowd will be answering questions from the floor of the Assembly.

'Not a boys-only club'

Sean Rogers of the SDLP agrees with Bronwyn McGahan's praise of the work done by schools in encouraging girls to study science subjects but says he is concerned by the reduction in the Sentinus (an initiative to encourage the study of science and technology subjects) budget.

"This is not a case of forcing students into subjects which they have no interest in, but no student should choose not to take up a STEM subject because of lack of information or misperception of this being a boys-only club," he says.

'Enlarge the talent pool'

DUP MLA Thomas Buchanan says it makes economic and business sense to encourage more women into technology fields as it "enlarges the talent pool" and "ensures recruiters can employ the best staff they need for their work".

'Gender imbalance'

Bronwyn McGahan

Bronwyn McGahan of Sinn Fein opens the debate.

She commends the "good work" done at primary and secondary schools to tackle gender stereotypes in terms of careers and initiatives to address the gender imbalance in science and technology fields.

But, she says, there remain obstacles such as working hours and childcare responsibilities that make it difficult for women to enter these sectors.

It will require political will and cultural change in attitude and approach for this to change, she says.

Women and STEM

MLAs are debating a Sinn Fein motion on increasing women's participation in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Consideration stage concludes

With no opposition to the amendments, the Pensions Bill goes through its consideration stage.

'Dedicated pensions and welfare committee'

The SDLP's Alex Attwood, who earlier referred to the minister as "a new broom" says he now sounds like a "broken duster".

With the coming reduction in the number of departments, which will increase the remit of the new ministries, he says there is an argument for creating a separate committee dedicated to looking at welfare and pensions.

'Crocodile tears'

Mervyn Storey

The minister accuses the SDLP of "crocodile tears" and "using people as a means of scoring political points" on the issue of welfare reform.

He says it is time to bring the welfare reform bill back to the Assembly so MLAs can focus on other issues such as corporation tax.


Roy Beggs

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs welcomes the retention of parity with the rest of the UK in terms of pension arrangements.

Alex Attwood of the SDLP calls for greater oversight of the changes to pensions and the benefits system.

He says his party would like to see a dedicated welfare committee, as operates in Scotland, advising on the delivery of welfare and the oversight of welfare change.

Bereavement support

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey introduces the first batch of amendments which he says are technical in nature.

Alex Maskey, the Sinn Fein chairman of the Social Development Committee, refers to some of the key issues considered by the committee.

There was concern around the replacement of a number of bereavement support payments, such as widowed parents allowance with one single benefit, he says.

MLAs also raised the possibility that some people working multiple part-time jobs, may not meet the lower earnings limit to qualify for a state pension.

Pensions Bill

MLAs are debating and voting on the consideration stage of the Pensions Bill.

Healthy portfolio

The TUV's Jim Allister asks about proposals to close the AFBI (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute) plant-testing station at Crossnacreevy, on the outskirts of east Belfast.

The minister says there are no proposals on her desk regarding closures and that AFBI has "a very healthy portfolio of work".

Bovine TB

Joe Byrne of the SDLP asks why the Republic seems to be so much more successful in tackling bovine TB.

Joe Byrne

The minister says her department has a "very strong eradication process in place"

She says she hopes to be able to announce at some point in the future that we are "TB-free".

The DUP's Sydney Anderson asked about efforts to achieve Brucellosis-free status.

Mrs O'Neill says the industry is "on target to achieve that".

She says new markets will open once that status has been achieved.

EU funding opportunities

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is making a statement on a recent meeting of the NSMC on agricultural matters.

Michelle O'Neill

The meeting included discussions of EU funding opportunities, Common Agricultural Policy reforms, and contingency planning for African swine fever.

'Preventative spending'

Mr Bell says the key to improving care for older people is "preventative spending".

He says this could allow people to remain in their homes "at a fraction of the cost of keeping them at a care facility".

Chris Lyttle of Alliance says he was "none the wiser as to what actions are going to be taken" following Junior Minister Bell's statement.

Mr Bell replies that the work of the Older Person's Commissioner and the use of 'telepresence robots' (remote-controlled, wheeled devices with a display for video communication) were areas of action where Northern Ireland "stood head and shoulders above in terms of good practice".

'Meat and heat'

Jonathan Bell speaks about the difficulties facing older people.

The issue of helping them "optimise their independence and remain in a place they call home", was one of the main topics discussed at the British Irish Council.

Bronwyn McGahan of Sinn Fein says older people's two main concerns are "meat and heat".

On The Runs report published

Away from Stormont, the news story dominating Northern Ireland politics today is the publication of the Westminster

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on the controversial On the Runs scheme.


The committee said the "one-sided, secretive scheme of letters" sent to over 180 Irish republicans should never have existed.

It came to light when one letter caused the

Hyde Park bomb trial to collapse.

British Irish Council

Junior minister Jonathan Bell is delivering a statement on a recent British Irish Council meeting.

Jonathan Bell

The meet focused on the social inclusion work sector.

Good morning

Northern Ireland Assembly chamber
Northern Ireland Assembly

Welcome to Tuesday's coverage of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This is the final plenary session before the Easter recess.

Westminster election fever is in the air and no doubt we will see some evidence of that today.