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  1. Minister Danny Kennedy is appearing before the Regional Development Committee to discuss his department's budget allocations for 2015/16.
  2. Earlier this month, Mr Kennedy warned his department does not have enough money to fund basic services like traffic light repairs.
  3. He is being asked to find £60m in spending cuts and said this cannot be delivered "without an impact on core services".
  4. There will also be briefings on the safety barrier replacement policy and structural maintenance budget.
  5. Later, the Justice Committee is hearing about plans to reduce avoidable delays in the criminal justice system as well as improving services for victims and witnesses.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

That's all for today

The chairman wishes all the members a "Happy Easter", and the committee adjourns after a brief meeting lasting less than an hour.

Join us tomorrow morning at 10am for live coverage of the Social Development Committee.


What is the Justice Bill?

The Justice Bill has three main policy objectives:

Lady Justice
Science Photo Library

- To improve the operation of the justice system.

- To improve services and facilities for victims and witnesses.

- To tackle delays and speed up the justice system.

An amendment proposed by the DUP's Jim Wells aims to restrict lawful abortions to NHS premises, except in cases of urgency when such access is not possible and where no fee is paid.

The Justice Bill

The committee begins the consideration and approval of its report on the Justice Bill.

'A clock is ticking'

Raymond McCartney

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney asks about the reason for delays - is it mainly to do with forensics and medical reports?

Ms Campbell says "it's making those responsible for producing those reports aware that a clock is ticking".

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott says he would prefer to see the limit set at 160 to 180 days.

'The shorter, the better'

Mr Ross says he approves of the idea as "the shorter the time between the alleged offence and the punishment the better".

He asks Ms Campbell what happens if the case slips beyond the proposed 120-day limit.

She says the case would be "stayed", and the prosecutor could apply for it to be recommenced.

Time limits scheme

Department of Justice (DOJ) official Maura Campbell briefs the committee on a proposed statutory time limits scheme for the youth court.

Maura Campbell

In reply to a question from Alastair Ross, she says that serious offences, such as sexual and violent crimes, would be excluded from the scheme.

The meeting is underway

The DUP's Alastair Ross is chairing the committee.

Alastair Ross

We're back

Justice Committee members take their seats in Room 21, only recently vacated by the Regional Development Committee following their lengthy morning session.

Justice Committee

This afternoon's meeting looks at statutory time limits, and avoidable delays in the criminal justice system.

Committee adjourns

The Regional Development Committee is adjourned.

After a very quick pause for lunch, we'll be back again at 2pm for coverage of the Justice Committee.

'Punching below our weight?'

Sinn Fein's Cathal O hOisin asks if Northern Ireland is "punching below our weight" in terms of accessing European funding for infrastructure projects.

"There is a lot of catching up with GB and our neighbours," says Gordon Best.

'Layoffs and redundancies'

Mark Hall, who works for a family-run quarrying and construction firm, says that because DRD did not get the allocation for resurfacing projects they wanted in the January monitoring round, there are "at least 15 employees on temporary layoff" and others had been made redundant.

Mark Hall

He says the company he works for had planned over £1m of capital investment but "that work is no longer going to proceed, the investment in new equipment isn't going to happen".

If there is no improvement to the budget, it could mean next year the company's turnover in Great Britain could "far exceed" that of Northern Ireland and could mean their headquarters move to England.

'Barely believable'

Gordon Best, regional director for QPANI (Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland) is briefing the committee on the structural maintenance budget.

Gordon Best

"The 2015/16 starting budget is so low it's barely believable," he says.

The budget outcome for Transport NI "goes against all recommended funding best practice and ignores past positions held by this committee," says Mr Best.

'Life and death decisions'

Dr Murray says the Malone Road barrier was assessed to be "in a hazardous condition" in 2011 and removed in October 2014.

There was no public concern raised about the removal of the barrier until there was media coverage around Mr Dolan's death.

"People have to make very difficult decisions, they are life and death decisions," he says.

"People have to install safety measures at places where they think they are going to do the most good. It doesn't always follow that they're right. We don't install barriers with the benefit of hindsight," says Dr Murray.

He says he believes the correspondence on the matter demonstrates "people did take a conscientious approach to this barrier, whether it should be removed or not, or replaced".

David McNarry asks if "negligence could have been avoided" by the department.

"On that basis of what I know, no," says Dr Murray, "barriers are not generally erected to protect pedestrians. That's not why that barrier was there. It's most unfortunate, particularly for the family, that this incident happened shortly after this barrier was removed".

'Agree to disagree'

Dr Murray says he is concerned by reports that the committee had found previous witnesses talking about the subject were "disingenuous and disrespectful".

"I watched the record of the previous session and that was not the impression that I got. I have to agree to disagree with the committee in that respect. My view is that the witnesses did give honest evidence and that they were sincere in their approach."

Committee resumes

We're back.

Deputy chairman Sean Lynch replaces Trevor Clarke in the chair.

Dr Andrew Murray from DRD is briefing MLAs on the department's safety barrier replacement policy.

Dr Andrew Murray
Dr Andrew Murray

Committee suspends

The committee is suspended for a few minutes.

'Public cost or public benefit?'

The discussion turns to water charges.

Chris Lyttle

Alliance's Chris Lyttle asks at what point the Executive subsidy of domestic water pricing "believed to be around £300m" becomes "more of a public cost than a public benefit".

"I'm supportive of the current situation," Mr Kennedy says "that no household charges to be applied within this mandate and if there are to be changes to that, changes need to be look at in the round, and with political consensus".

His party colleague Ross Hussey notes that if charges are introduced, there is no guarantee the revenue raised will go to the Regional Development budget.

Safety barriers

The SDLP's Joe Byrne raises the subject of the department's safety barrier replacement policy and the death of 18 year old

Enda Dolan in 2014.

The student was knocked down and killed on the Malone Road, Belfast, as he returned to his student accommodation weeks after a crash barrier had been removed from the site.

Crash barrier

Danny Kennedy says he understands work commenced on replacing the barrier "in the last couple of days and will be expedited as quickly as possible".

Trevor Clarke asks why the minister had given ministerial direction "to actually do something on site, given they were reluctant even after it was removed".

"Having met the family, that was a very considerable experience, I took a personal decision on that, that I wanted to see if by that action it would at least give the family some comfort," Mr Kennedy says.

Trevor Clarke says he hopes the minister will have another look at the background to the case, and that if someone needs to be brought to task for making the wrong decision that should happen.

The minister says he has instigated an independent review in respect of this case and taken advice about any other measures that need put in place.

'£800m to fix all road defects'

Departmental official Dr Andrew Murray says that the budget shortfall for structural maintenance only adds to a backlog in repairs and it would now cost around £800m to fix all the road defects in Northern Ireland.

"If we don't get significant in-year money for 2015/16, it will probably exceed £1bn," he says.

'Gung-ho, wing and a prayer economics'

David McNarry

UKIP's David McNarry says the department is "a shambles".

He says the projected £30m overspend looks like "gung-ho, wing and a prayer economics, and to me that's very reckless".

On Translink, Mr McNarry asks "how long are you going to put up with this loss-making company?"

Mr Kennedy asks "would you advocate that the public transport system would go to the wall?"

"We can have soundbites, you can make allegations and call on me to resign, that's not going to solve the issues before us," he says.

David McNarry replies "far from it minister, because you're not solving anything at Translink, there's no pressure, no incentive".

'Very modest figure'

Cathal O hOisin of Sinn Fein asks about European funding and says the capital and resource allocations for the forthcoming year "look a very modest figure".

Mr Kennedy says Europe may not fund the work, but may provide money for related studies. Hesays DRD "has the best record, in terms of the Executive, of drawing down European money".

'Gives me no pleasure"

John Dallat

The SDLP's John Dallat asks why money from the roads budget was being used to support NI Water -"is the choice now water in the taps, but no tar on the roads?"

Mr Kennedy says NI Water has legal obligations to maintain service provision and at the same time he has to keep Translink as a viable company. He says this leaves him no option but to take money out of Transport NI which "gives me no pleasure".

"I need the help and support of this committee so we can receive more money to carry out this department's objectives," he says.

Resurfacing roads

Sean Lynch, the committee's deputy chairman, asks about road resurfacing.

Departmental official John McNeill says he hopes they will secure £95m for structural maintenance, including resurfacing, which was "considerably short of the £130m which is the accepted, recommended level to keep the network at a steady state".

'Fare increases'

Translink buses

Minister Danny Kennedy responds to a question on Translink fare increases and says he opposes raising fares twice in the same calendar year.

It "defeats the purpose of trying to encourage the use of public transport," he says.

'One-off measures'

Permanent Secretary Peter May addresses the disparity in the figures.

He says the department (DRD) would normally receive around £6m from car parking revenue, but with the transfer of off-street parking to local councils, this revenue would be lost.

Mr May says it is likely DRD will overspend by around £13m this year, because of the delivery of services such as winter gritting.

There were also a number of "one-off" cost-saving measures taken that "cannot be repeated".

This includes a £10m reduction to financial support for Translink.

'Sums don't add up'

Trevor Clarke

Trevor Clarke, the committee chairman, says the document provided to MLAs showed the Regional Development budget cut was £11m rather than £60m.

"I'm not entirely sure who is the mathematician in the department, but the sums don't add up," he says.

Danny Kennedy says there is no effort on his part to "falsify" or "shroud wave".

'Serious impact on services'

Running tap

The cuts are such that "serious impact on core services cannot be avoided", the minister says.

On Northern Ireland Water, he says the Utility Regulator assessed it would need £113m from the department for maximum efficiency.

The draft budget allocation had been around £15m less than that, but to meet its legal obligations, Mr Kennedy says he allocated a further £10m which the minister says he hopes would mitigate against deterioration in water quality and ensure NI Water can meet waste water compliance levels "that appeared inevitable at draft budget stage".

'Difficult decisions'

Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy says he wants to address the perception that his department is facing a 0.6% cut and is therefore the least affected in the Executive.

He says this is "misleading" and "unrepresentative of my department's budget".

Funding reductions, this year and next, have forced him to take difficult decisions, says the minister.

Regional Development Committee is underway

Regional Development Committee

The Regional Development Committee is receiving a ministerial briefing from Danny Kennedy, Minister for Regional Development.

Trevor Clarke, who is struggling manfully with a bad cold, is in the chair.