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Summary

  1. MLAs are debating an Ulster Unionist motion calling for the repeal of the exemption in fair employment law for teachers on the basis of religious belief at 3.30pm.
  2. The motion also describes the requirement for a religious education certificate in Catholic primary schools as an "unnecessary" barrier to shared education.
  3. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Employment Minister Stephen Farry are appearing in Question Time at 2pm.
  4. The Assembly will make a decision on approval of the Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme, and will debate Assembly Committees' priorities for European scrutiny.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

Good afternoon

That's it for now at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Join us tomorrow from 10.30am, when the first item of business will be a ministerial statement from Education Minister John O'Dowd on the latest meeting of the North South Ministerial Council's education body.

The motion passes

The motion is carried by a majority in the Assembly, but the Alliance Party motion falls.

'Pluralist approach'

Independent MLA John McCallister says he supports the motion and the Alliance amendment.

Anna Lo of Alliance, winds on her party's amendment, which she says is "an interim solution" as legislative change could take years.

She says she and her colleagues respect the different education sectors but advocate a more "pluralist" approach "so people with all faiths, or no faith, are catered for in our school system".

Religious instruction

DUP MLA Jonathan Craig quotes Fr Tim Bartlett, appearing before the Education Committee, as saying the certificate was "not just teaching the sacraments of the church, but turning each teacher into a religious education teacher."

"You're also a religious instructor," says Mr Craig - "the difference is you are a religious instructor from one viewpoint. From an equality point of view, is that acceptable?"

Single equality bill

Chris Hazzard, of Sinn Fein, says there were issues around accessibility of the certificate and fair employment and calls for a single equality bill "that would deal with this - equality's equality".

Chris Hazzard
BBC

He says it is "disappointing that the motion tries to catch all, but in fact ruins the valid point it has in the first part by including too many things".

'Culture of discrimination'

David McIlveen
BBC

The DUP's David McIlveen says "I think it's abundantly clear that the Catholic certificate of education is providing fuel to a culture of discrimination within our education sector."

"There is statistical evidence," he says, adding, "the statistical evidence is in the miniscule number of young Protestant teachers that teach within the Catholic education sector. It's clear for everyone to see".

'No statistical evidence?'

Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin says the exemption of teachers from fair employment law was "past its sell-by date".

She says though, there is "no statistical evidence to suggest that the certificate requirement has resulted in inequalities in employment".

But, she says there was some evidence of barriers in accessing the certificate "which may lead to inequalities for those who wish to attain it".

'Inbuilt inequalities'

Nelson McCausland
BBC

The DUP's Nelson McCausland talks about the "inbuilt inequalities" in the education system and says it is "incumbent on all of us to address these inequalities".

He says the certificate differs from other teaching qualifications as it relates "solely to one sector".

'Not a barrier'

Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan asks why the proposers of the motion and amendment were "seeking to undermine the integrity of one particular sector".

"The Catholic sector wants to protect that ethos within their schools. What's the difficulty with that?" he adds.

Sean Rogers of the SDLP says the certificate itself is "not a barrier".

Sean Rogers
BBC

Students at Stranmillis teaching college can, he says, obtain the certificate by a distance learning course.

He says there is a lack of awareness and little information about the course, as well as the need to pay up-front fees, which "can be off-putting".

'An irrelevancy'

Michelle McIlveen
BBC

Chairwoman of the Education Committee, the DUP's Michelle McIlveen resumes the debate on "inequality in teacher employment".

She says a majority on the committee believe the requirement to hold a certificate of religious education is "unfair" and "represents a significant inequality".

Miss McIlveen describes the Catholic certificate of religious education as "an irrelevancy when it comes to doing the job" and says "there would be an understandable outrage if a Protestant certificate was to be proposed".

Higher education funding

The DUP's Edwin Poots asks what the minister is going to do to ensure Northern Ireland's universities "can continue to be competitive globally".

Queen's University, Belfast
BBC
Queen's University, Belfast

Mr Farry says the financial situation is "eroding", and that he intends to initiate a wider discussion about the funding of higher education.

Employment and Learning

The Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, is now answering questions from MLAs.

Desertcreat opposition

Desertcreat site
Pacemaker
Desertcreat College site

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone asks about the financial situation of the Desertcreat Community Safety College.

Mr McGuinness says he has been aware of opposition to the college being built in County Tyrone from elements within the police service "going back for years".

"I refuse to accept that the Desertcreat project is dead in the water," he says.

Racial Equality Strategy

The SDLP's Alban Maginness asks about the consultation on the Racial Equality Strategy.

Alban Maginness
BBC

He says the "fairly critical responses" require a more radical approach from the minister's department.

"The department recognises the seriousness of the issue," the deputy first minister replies.

He condemns recent attacks on people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and says the issue was not treated seriously enough in the past.

Distinguished visitor

Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin welcomes a distinguished visitor.

The Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives is in the gallery.

Maze-Long Kesh site

Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend asks whether, now that the Maze-Long Kesh project is "dead in the water", will the Deputy First Minister actively lobby to locate it elsewhere.

Mr McGuinness says redevelopment of the prison site was a Programme for Government commitment.

Martin McGuinness
BBC

He refutes the claim that it is "dead in the water".

"I'm very determined to find a way forward," he says.

Question Time

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Employment Minister Stephen Farry are answering questions in the Assembly.

'Equality of opportunity'

Alliance's Trevor Lunn, introducing the amendment, says because of changing demographics, almost 40% of teaching jobs now require the certificate.

Trevor Lunn
BBC

He says the lack of teaching posts available in Northern Ireland make "equality of opportunity even more important".

Alliance amendment

St Mary's University College, Belfast
BBC
St Mary's University College

An Alliance Party amendment to the motion proposes an interim measure.

The amendment calls on St Mary's University College, Belfast, which trains most of Northern Irelands' Catholic teachers to provide access to the religious certificate to students from other colleges.

'Blatant discrimination?'

Mr Kinahan says he "isn't having a go at faith-based teaching" and "exam results suggest they are doing a great deal right, but I am suggesting in the area of teacher employment they're getting something wrong".

In 1976, Westminster exempted employment as a teacher from anti-discriminatory legislation, an exemption reaffirmed by the EU in 2000, says the UUP MLA.

"The teacher exemption should go and go now", he says.

'No ministers here'

Danny Kinahan
BBC

Danny Kinahan of the UUP, introduces the debate.

He says it is "sad there are no ministers here to respond".

Mr Kinahan quotes the Education Minister, John O'Dowd, as saying he would support removing the requirement for teachers at Catholic maintained schools to hold the Catholic certificate of education.

Mr O'Dowd's party colleague, Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan, says that Mr O'Dowd had confused the fair employment law exemption with the certificate, but had subsequently clarified his position.

Teacher inequality

The Ulster Unionist motion on Inequality in Teacher Employment calls for the removal of an exemption to Northern Ireland's employment law "that allows discrimination on the basis of religious belief".

It also calls for an end to the requirement for teachers in Catholic primary schools to hold a certificate in religious education.

Motion passes

Alliance's Chris Lyttle winds on the debate, on behalf of the OFMDFM Committee, of which he is deputy chairperson.

The motion passes on an oral vote.

'A very un-EU report'

Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who chairs the Employment Committee, spoke in support of the motion.

TUV leader Jim Allister describes the report as "a very un-EU report, as it attempts to say in four pages what could have been said in 400".

Peace groups

Phil Flanagan
BBC

"People don't want to see this place being taken out of Europe," says Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan.

The agricultural sector is "heavily reliant" on EU funding, as are "groups involved in building the peace across the North and along the border", he says.

CAP reform

Tractor
BBC

Chairman William Irwin of the DUP addresses the priorities of the Agriculture Committee.

He describes reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)as "of great concern, not just for the committee, but for the farming industry".

CAP funding helps to "build and sustain" the agri-food sector he says, and "as a committee we do not want to see a detrimental impact on the industry as a result of change in policy".

Energy Union

Anna Lo
BBC

Anna Lo of Alliance, chairperson of the Environment Committee, speaks about a strategic framework for energy union between European countries as well as energy supply security.

She also touches on the possibility of introducing a new target for reducing emissions by 35% by 2025.

The provision of social housing is an important issue for us all, says chairman of the Social Development Committee, Alex Maskey.

He talks about a loan by the European Investment Bank to a UK social housing firm to build new homes, refurbish existing homes and regenerate "run-down" areas.

Mr Maskey says the committee was disappointed that a number of organisations had lost funding from the European Social Fund, "in some cases leading to the closure of some very important projects".

'Economic and social benefit'

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone says those who are sceptical of the benefit of EU membership need only look at the economic benefit, with billions in receipts through various agricultural, social and innovation programmes.

Patsy McGlone
BBC

In his capacity as chairman of the Enterprise Committee, he addresses energy generation, trade co-operation and innovation.

Were the UK to leave the EU, he says it would have "severe economic and social consequences" for Northern Ireland.

McGahan - EU funding must be 'accessible and effective'

The DUP's Brenda Hale says as well as accessing EU funding, Northern Ireland must "draw down from the vast knowledge bank in Europe".

In respect of agriculture and fisheries, she says it is important "we get the best deal for our farmers and fishermen".

Bronwyn McGahan of Sinn Fein says "given the dire economic situation facing us all", we must ensure EU funding is made "as accessible and effective as possible".

Bronwyn McGahan
BBC

"Sustainable development must be pursued vigorously," she adds.

'More jobs and growth'

Mr Nesbitt says the possibility of EU expansion and movement of labour could lead to "greater immigration into Northern Ireland".

Mike Nesbitt
BBC

Among the European issues considered by his committee are compliance with ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) and the Barroso Taskforce, a working group designed "to support the Executive's efforts to modernise the regional economy, creating more jobs and growth".

Nesbitt opens EU priorities debate

EU flag
Getty Images

Chairman of the OFMDFM Committee, Mike Nesbitt, opens a debate on Stormont committees' priorities on the European issues "which affect the people of Northern Ireland".

The motion is passed

The motion approving the three percent cut is passed on an oral vote.

'Range of views'

The DUP's Peter Weir says "there was a range of views" in the commission over the cut to FAPP payments.

Peter Weir
BBC

He says the money is generally used to pay wages.

Mr Weir says not all parties are in the position of being "one of the richest parties in western Europe", making reference to Sinn Fein and and its fundraising in the US.

Allister calls for transparency

"Every last penny of this is public money," says Jim Allister.

He calls for transparency in the spending of whips' payments.

Caitriona Ruane intervenes to say that all Sinn Fein members take an average industrial wage with the surplus being taken to service the needs of constituents.

DUP's Campbell warned

Deputy Speaker John Dallat warns the DUP's Gregory Campbell not to "engage in debate from a sedentary position".

Allister - 'Whips allowance enriches parties'

"We spent upwards of four hours" to reach a balanced outcome, says Pat Ramsey.

Sam Gardiner of the UUP says it is a pity that Ms Ruane was not at the commission meeting where the decision was taken.

The TUV's Jim Allister criticises the whips allowance, which "enriches parties very significantly".

Jim Allister
BBC
Jim Allister

SF back 10% FAPP cut

Caitriona Ruane of Sinn Fein says she had argued for a 10% cut in FAPP.

Caitriona Ruane
BBC

She says the parties will have to explain their stance to the Assembly staff who will lose their jobs.

The SDLP's Pat Ramsey speaks in favour of the motion.

Three percent cut

Judith Cochrane of Alliance opens the debate on the Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP) scheme.

Judith Cochrane
BBC

Speaking as a representative of the Assembly Commission, Mrs Cochrane explains that the proposal would mean a three percent cut in FAPP funding.

Gary Middleton replaces Maurice Devenney

Gary Middleton
BBC

The Speaker announces that following the resignation of Maurice Devenney, Gary Middleton has taken his place as DUP member for Foyle.

Good morning

Welcome to our coverage of the first Assembly meeting of the new term.

Live coverage starts at 12 noon with a debate on financial assistance for political parties.