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  1. The Culture Committee took evidence from Northern Ireland Screen on renewal of the BBC Charter.
  2. The Justice Committee heard from Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris and departmental officials about the troubled Desertcreat Community Safety College project
  3. MLAS also heard a Department of Justice briefing on legal aid.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

That's all for today

Chairman Alastair Ross declares the meeting adjourned

That's all from Parliament Buildings, Stormont, for this week.

Join us at midday on Monday for the first of next week's plenary sessions of the full Assembly.

Have a good weekend.

Legal aid briefing

Department of Justice officials Mark McGuckin and Padraig Cullen are briefing the committee on legal aid for Crown Court proceedings.

'I don't know yet'

Patsy McGlone wants to know if all the options being considered commit to a project going ahead at Desertcreat.

"I don't know yet," Mr Harris replies.

"We have to look through the options," he adds.


Brendan Smyth

Brendan Smyth, formerly of the Department of Health, says the problem was "the mismanagement and the cost control by the design team".


Paul Frew

Paul Frew of the DUP says the project has been "a shambles of a process from day one".

He says it has "put good, decent businesses at severe risk".

'Into the sand'

Raymond McCartney

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney talks about financial problems faced by the scheme.

He says that if people wanted to see the project "run into the sand" a financial overshoot "would be a good example of how you would do it".

'Training tourism'

Edwin Poots

The DUP's Edwin Poots refers to the concept of "training tourism", where bodies from outside of Northern Ireland would send their staff to Desertcreat for training.

Mr Harris says it is not a "pipe dream" as suggested by Mr Poots, but "it would only ever be a proportion of income of the total to be generated".

Police opposition?

Mr McGlone refers to recent comments made by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that he was aware some people within the Police Service (PSNI) were opposed to the project going to County Tyrone from the start.

Mr Harris says he would "entirely refute these comments" directed towards the PSNI.

"Is it going ahead?"

Patsy McGlone

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone asks if the college is "going ahead at all?"

Drew Harris replies: "I can't definitely say if this is going ahead or not".

Reduced training days

Drew Harris

Drew Harris says the projected number of training days required has reduced by 48%.

The project's three accounting officers have said "the project needs to be reframed".

Desertcreat update

Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI Drew Harris, Brendan Smyth from the Health Department and Rosemary Crawford from the Justice Department are briefing MLAs and answering questions on the Desertcreat project.

Desertcreat College

Desertcreat College plans

First announced in 2004, the

Desertcreat Community Safety College was intended to be a state of the art £130m training facility shared by police, fire and prison services.

The college, near Cookstown, County Tyrone, was scheduled to open in 2008, but the project has since been beset by financial problems and in November 2014, the team in charge of its development said work on the college should not continue.

The departments of justice and health have since accepted a recommendation they should go back to the drawing board as the existing plans were deemed no longer economically viable.

The Treasury has also said that nearly £80m of special funding may no longer be available.

We're back

Alastair Ross

This afternoon's Justice Committee meeting is starting a little later than usual.

The DUP's Alastair Ross is in the chair.

That's lunchtime

MLAs agree the date and time of the next session, and with that chair Nelson McCausland adjourns the meeting.

Please join us at 3pm for the Justice Committee and a session on the Desertcreat Community Safety College project.

Young people

Karen McKevitt of the SDLP asks what elements of the new charter would encourage young people to enter the creative industries.

Richard Williams talks about NI Screen's educational programmes and training schemes such as Aim High, which operates in conjunction with the BBC.

'Plausible alternative'

Dominic Bradley

Dominic Bradley of the SDLP asks "if the licence fee model is not sustainable, what model do you think would be?"

NI Screen chair Ms Johnston says "I don't have an answer for that".

Her colleague Richard Williams says "I don't think Rotha is alone in not knowing what the alternative would be. I think the hope would be that over the next charter period, some sort of plausible, digital-connected solution would become apparent".

"I think the key point is, don't dismantle what is currently working until someone has a plausible alternative".

'Least well served'

Ms Johnston says an assessment was made in 2007 that Northern Ireland was the "least well served" of the UK regions, in terms of BBC spending.

She says around 0.4% of the corporation's spending went on local programming here.

A target was set for 2.9% of spending to be dedicated to Northern Ireland output by 2016, she says, with figures for 2013 showing it had grown to 2.2%.

Funding model

Rotha Johnston the licence fee may no be sustainable going forward, but "dismantling the BBC and changing the funding model could have a very significant impact on the creative economy".

'Cultural value'

Ms Johnston, previously a trustee of the BBC, speaks on the cultural value of the BBC.

She says there is a partnership between NI Screen and the BBC, which aims to ensure Northern Ireland is strongly represented to audiences across the rest of the UK and beyond, but "this is an area the BBC needs to build upon. It doesn't have a great track record in this area, but over the last number of years this has improved".

BBC Charter briefing

Rotha Williams

Rotha Johnston, head of Northern Ireland Screen and her colleague Richard Williams, are briefing the committee on the BBC Charter.

The royal charter is the constitutional basis for the BBC. It sets out the public purposes of the BBC, guarantees its independence, and outlines the duties of the Trust and the Executive Board.

The current charter runs until 31 December 2016.

'An insurance matter'

Oliver McMullan of Sinn Fein asks who will pay for the damage to the West Stand at Windsor Park.

Rory Miskelly says there will be "no cost to the public purse, it will be an insurance matter".

'Minor finessing'

Karen McKevitt

Karen McKevitt of the SDLP asks if there had been changes to the original plan for Casement Park, aside from the reduction in capacity from 42,000 to 38,000.

Rory Miskelly says "I believe the answer is no," adding that there had been only "minor finessing".

'Very unlikely scenario'

Gordon Dunne

Gordon Dunne, the DUP deputy chairman of the committee, asks what lessons have been learned from examining the damage to the West Stand at Windsor Park stadium.

Dr McMahon says "this is a very unlikely scenario" but "the question is, are our processes robust enough that if a similar set of circumstances came together, at a different stadium, would they be robust enough to pick it up in advance".

Rory Miskelly adds the weather and ongoing building work adjacent to the West Stand contributed to this set of circumstances.

Disclosure of information

Basil McCrea

Basil McCrea of NI21 asks about the disclosure of information to the committee.

He says it is "appalling" that the officials did not provide MLAs with a record of minutes of a recent meeting with the Safety Technical Group, regarding Casement Park.

"You should not treat statutory committees with contempt," he says.

Mr McCrea says if MLAs do not receive the information, he will "put it to the chair that we will compel you to provide the information".

A tale of two stadia

Aerial view of Casement Park GAA stadium
Casement Park GAA stadium

This morning's briefing concerns difficulties experienced during the redevelopment of two sports stadia in Belfast.

Local residents have objected to some aspects of a major redevelopment of Casement Park, a Gaelic Athletic Association sports ground in the west of the city.

Earlier this month, the BBC learned that design plans for the stadium were not approved by key advisers.

They were concerned at the amount of time it could take to exit the ground in the event of an emergency.

Windsor Park football stadium in south Belfast is also being redeveloped.

A damaged stand at the ground is to be demolished.

Cracks were discovered last month, following Northern Ireland's game against Finland when 4,000 spectators filled the stand.

Revised capacity

Cathal O hOisin

Cathal O hOisin of Sinn Fein talks about the business case for the stadium and how this relates to its capacity.

He asks why it was initially decided the capacity of Casement Park would be 42,000, which was deemed safe, but the revised capacity of 38,000 had not received safety approval.

Rory Miskelly says "I believe in the early stages it was cited that it should be possible to deliver. However, it should be acknowledged that further design work would have had to be done at that stage."

"I think the early confidence levels in terms of delivering a high capacity stadium on the Casement Park site, that would be from that era," he adds.

'Safety the priority'

In response to a question from the DUP's William Humphrey on Casement Park stadium in west Belfast, Mr McMahon says "the aim of this is not to get a particular size of facility up at any cost" and "safety has to be a priority".

Officials discuss stadia

Officials briefing the committee

Permanent Secretary Dr Denis McMahon, Rory Miskelly from the Strategic Investment Board, which is managing the sub-regional stadia programme and Cynthia Smith, deputy secretary at DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure) are answering questions from MLAs.

Good morning

Nelson McCausland

After a period in closed session, the DUP's Nelson McCausland, who chairs the Culture Committee, begins the public meeting.

First up, a briefing from departmental officials on internal governance.