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Summary

  1. At 10.30am MLAs began debating the consideration stage of the Reservoirs Bill.
  2. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with no specific legislation covering reservoir safety, the bill aims to address this.
  3. There were 214 amendments listed so the debate was expected to last late into the evening.
  4. At 2pm Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin answered questions on the floor of the house.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

Consideration stage completed

MLAs make steady progress through the amendments, which were largely technical in nature, and conclude the consideration stage of the Reservoir Bill much earlier than expected.

Sensitive information

Michelle O'Neill talks about the management of sensitive information around reservoirs, where it is deemed necessary.

William Irwin says the committee did not take a position on these amendments.

The amendments pass.

Audit of reservoirs

William Irwin says an audit of reservoirs may be beneficial.

He says the committee believe the department "should not rely on anecdotal evidence" around the state of reservoirs and an audit would help address "the information vacuum" on their condition.

It would also have allowed an evaluation as to how much grant aid may be required to bring them up to the minimum safety standard, he says.

Risk assessment

The minister addresses the next group of amendments around the inspection of reservoirs by expert engineers.

The Agriculture Committee chairman, William Irwin, talks about the frequency of risk assessment checks.

He says the committee believed these provisions were "gold plated" and "too geared to what engineers considered was necessary and not to what was actually needed".

Management of reservoirs

Michelle O'Neill
BBC

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill introduces a group of amendments dealing with the management of reservoirs, covering:

The recovery of costs incurred by the department on works it undertakes on a reservoir.

The department's approach to offences by reservoir managers, who fail to comply with the provisions of the bill.

The assessment by the department of the reservoir engineers' reports.

Making a provision that the department should publish information on the range of costs charged by reservoir engineers.

Reservoirs debate resumes

We return to the debate on the Reservoirs Bill.

MLAs are voting on a number of amendments.

Windsor Park

Windsor park stand demolition
BBC
Demolition work gets underway at Windsor Park

The DUP's David Hilditch asks the minister about the situation at Windsor Park football stadium.

Cracks were discovered in the west stand of the stadium after Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland on 29 March.

Ms Ni Chuilin says work on the stadium refurbishment "is progressing well" and that the west stand is to be demolished.

She reassures Mr Hilditch it is her understanding that work on the North stand will be paid by for by an insurance claim

Museum 'bias'

Brenda Hale
BBC

The DUP's Brenda Hale asks about "a distinct bias in the books and literature on sale" at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

She says "items of British, Ulster Scots, or Orange, or even wartime were practically non-existent".

Ms Ni Chuilin says she is happy to write to the museum to query the matter.

'Full steam ahead'

Anna Lo
BBC

Anna Lo of Alliance asks how the transfer of Agriculture Department headquarters to Ballykelly in County Londonderry will be affected by the amalgamation to form the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Mrs O'Neill says the transfer is "full steam ahead" and that there will be "a seamless process" for staff.

Trawler incident

Fishing boat
BBC
The skipper of the Karen said it was dragged backwards at speed

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard asks what action the minister is taking about the recent incident when the nets of

a fishing vessel from Ardglass, County Down, apparently became caught up by a submarine.

The minister says she has spoken to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and that the Ministry of Defence say they were unaware of any submarine presence.

Mrs O'Neill says the MOD (Ministry of Defence) "need to be transparent" and that the incident posed a threat to the lives of the four people on the boat.

Dog breeding

Puppies
BBC

In reply to a question from the UUP's Michael McGimpsey about dog breeding establishments, Mrs O'Neill says "we have the strictest controls across these islands".

Mr McGimpsey refers to a recent BBC report on dog breeding in Northern Ireland.

The minister says a review of animal welfare law is underway and she will consider strengthening the legislation.

Agriculture Questions

Michelle O'Neill
BBC

Michelle O'Neill is first to take questions this afternoon.

We're back

MLAs take a break from the marathon debate on the Reservoirs Bill to make room for Question Time.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin are appearing at the despatch box.

Amendment falls

The first amendment is defeated and clause one of the bill passes, unamended, on an oral vote.

Clause two of the bill also passes, just in time for the lunch break.

'Bureaucracy'

Paul Girvan of the DUP says the purpose of increasing the threshold is to remove some owners from "a draconian system which is going to give them an awful lot more bureaucracy to deal with".

'Not an arbitrary figure'

Michelle O'Neill
BBC

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill responds to the first group of amendments.

She says she will oppose an increase in the capacity threshold for reservoirs.

Mrs O'Neill says her department has taken advice from the Institution of Civil Engineers and "the 10,000 cubic metre threshold contained in the bill is not an arbitrary figure. This is the volume at which uncontrolled release of water has the potential to result in loss of life and significant damage to property".

'Better safe than sorry'

Trevor Lunn
BBC

Alliance's Trevor Lunn speaks in support of the bill and says "up until now, we appear not to have been complying with our EU obligations to identify, assess and manage potential risks".

He says when it comes to public interest and public safety, "better safe than sorry has to be the maxim here".

Jim Allister of the TUV questions the proportionality of the bill, which he says is "excessively burdensome and over-reaching".

In the last 150 years there have been five dam failures in Northern Ireland "with no loss of life whatsoever", he says, yet the bill would put "huge burdens" on owners of any areas of impounded water and "great expense" on private owners.

Risk regulation

Tom Elliott
BBC

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott says he understands the rationale for the bill, with similar legislation in place in the rest of the UK.

He says he does not want the proposals to be "a money spinner for engineers or private owners", nor does he want there to be onerous regulation from the department.

Mr Elliott welcomes the amendments on risk regulation, without which "I can tell you, we in the Ulster Unionist Party would be voting against it".

Two years of scrutiny

Joe Byrne
BBC

Joe Byrne of the SDLP talks about the work of the Agriculture Committee in scrutinising the bill.

He says they have been considering the bill for around two years, with particular focus on the classification of reservoirs, risk designation, the role and function of engineering reports and the cost of capital remedial works for non-public owned reservoirs.

The committee's recommendations make the bill "more sensible and realistic", says Mr Byrne.

'Public safety'

Oliver McMullan
BBC

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan also addresses the issue of increasing the capacity threshold for reservoir classification.

He says England and Scotland both have legislation on the books to reduce the lower limit from 25,000 cubic metres to 10,000 metres.

"However, this should not be about the number of reservoirs that can escape being regulated by the bill," says Mr McMullan, "it is about keeping people safe. It's about reducing the chances that dam failure will occur".

Reservoir capacity

Mr Irwin speaks on an amendment proposing an increase in the lower limit for the capacity of reservoirs, from 10,000 cubic metres to 25,000.

He says this would primarily remove "private sector, low consequence reservoirs" from the scope of the bill.

'Flood risk assessment'

Mr Irwin talks about the flaws in the risk assessment process, which he says is "not based on the likelihood of failure, just the consequence".

This is made more difficult as "at the moment there is no universally accepted standard to assess the likelihood of a dam failing".

'Sledgehammer approach'

William Irwin
BBC

William Irwin, the DUP chairman of the Agriculture Committee, speaks about the consultation process around the Reservoirs Bill.

He says there was a lack of submissions from private sector reservoir owners.

Many were unaware the body of water on their land was classed as a reservoir, he says.

There are only around 50 privately-owned reservoirs and nine owned by "third sector bodies", says Mr Irwin, which he says makes the bill "a sledgehammer approach", and "really, there hasn't been a problem of flooding from reservoirs in Northern Ireland".

Planning permission

Mr Clarke talks about planning applications that were granted for dwellings to be built near reservoirs, that were subsequently declared at risk of flooding.

"If the minister's department had been doing the right thing, she should have been refusing those on the grounds it was unsafe and there was a risk of reservoirs breaking their banks," he says.

What is the Reservoirs Bill?

A dam in the hills
Thinkstock
Northern Ireland currently has no specific legislation for reservoir safety

The Department for Agriculture and Rural Development says the

aim of the bill is to "ensure that reservoirs are managed and operated to minimise any risk of flooding due to an uncontrolled release of water resulting from dam failure and therefore protecting people, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity".

Some landowners have objected to the regulations that would be imposed on them by the bill.

Reservoirs Bill

Trevor Clarke
BBC

MLAs are debating the first batch of amendments to the Reservoirs Bill.

Trevor Clarke, chairman of the Regional Development Committee is first to speak.

He says people living in Great Britain face a bigger flood risk than those in Northern Ireland.

Good morning

Northern Ireland Assembly chamber
BBC
Northern Ireland Assembly

Hello and welcome to BBC Democracy Live's coverage of the Stormont Assembly, on this chilly Tuesday morning.

Coming up, we have the consideration stage of the Reservoirs Bill.