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  1. The ministers of the environment and regional development made statements on recent North South ministerial Council meetings.
  2. Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry brought a number of motions relating to parental leave.
  3. MLAs debated the Social Development Committee's report into allegations arising from a BBC Spotlight programme of impropriety or irregularity relating to Housing Executive managed contracts.
  4. The environment, finance and education ministers appeared at Question Time.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

Good afternoon

That's all for today.

Join us again in the morning for coverage of the Finance Committee, when economic experts are answering questions on the impact of air passenger duty on the cost of short haul flights.

Finance officials are also discussing recruitment in the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Mental health promotion

The minister talks about the importance of tackling stigma around mental health issues to encourage people to seek support.

He talks about the high level of need for suicide prevention services in the Londonderry area.

Mr Hamilton says almost £5m has been invested in mental health promotion in the Western Trust in the last five years, with planned investment for the next year of around £600,000.

There is also a liaison and support service for families bereaved through suicide and a "state of the art" crisis treatment centre at Grangewood, near Londonderry, opened in 2012.

Deprivation link

Simon Hamilton

Newly-appointed Health Minister Simon Hamilton responds to the debate.

He says at least 10% of people in Northern Ireland know someone well who has died by suicide.

Mr Hamilton talks about the correlation between areas of deprivation or those worst impacted by the Troubles and suicide.

Family experience

Ross Hussey

Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey talks about his own family's experience with suicide.

He speaks about a number of factors that can lead to people taking their own lives and refers in particular to a Shout report by voluntary group Youthnet that indicates an elevated instance of suicide among members of the LGBT community.

'We can and must do something'

Mark H Durkan

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan talks about the impact of losing a friend, or relative, to suicide.

He says that as legislators and leaders in the community, MLAs need to do "all we can to ensure more lives are not lost, more families are not left with these unanswered questions. We can do something and we must do something".

Drug rehabilitation

Maeve McLaughlin

Fellow Foyle MLA, Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin talks about the link between drug and alcohol addiction and suicide.

She says it is ironic that Londonderry has a purpose-built drug rehabilitation facility - the White Oaks facility in County Donegal, but it is not being used by the people of the city.

Suicide prevention

Gary Middleton

Making his maiden speech in the Assembly, the DUP's Gary Middleton, brings the adjournment debate - on suicide prevention in Londonderry.

He says as it is Mental Health Week, the debate was particularly timely.

Mr Middleton cites a report from Ulster University that showed 77% of suicides deaths were men and just over half were known to have a mental health disorder.

He talks about various means for preventing suicide, including a public awareness campaign and the publication of a Suicide Prevention Strategy.

'Confusing' GCSEs

Fearghal McKinney

The SDLP's Fearghal McKinney asks the minister if he will consider changing the GCSE scoring system to fit the new system in England and Wales as many Northern Ireland students also study for GCSEs from English boards.

"A mixed scoring system is confusing," he says.

The minister says he is keeping the matter under constant review.

"There will be no detrimental effect on our students," he says.

Oversubscribed nurseries

Chris Lyttle

Chris Lyttle of Alliance asks how many nursery schools in East Belfast are oversubscribed.

The minister says he does not have the figures with him but "the vast, vast majority of children have been placed".

Mr O'Dowd says there is another allocation stage to come, when parents will be asked for further preferences.

Capital schemes

Trevor Lunn

Trevor Lunn asks about the £500m to be allocated for shared education schemes,

He wants assurance that the money will not be used "to prop up under-pressure capital schemes".

Mr O'Dowd says that any school benefitting from the scheme "will have to be a sustainable school".

The minister says he does not see any investment being used to prop up his "significantly-depleted" capital budget.

Education Questions

John O'Dowd

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

'Bleak outlook'

Chris Hazzard

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard asks the minister whether she intends to meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer "to discuss the very bleak economic outlook that looks to be heading our way as a result of the Tories".

Mrs Foster confirms that she will be meeting George Osborne to discuss "the settlement for Northern Ireland".

Exit scheme

Alasdair McDonnell

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell asks about the civil service voluntary exit scheme.

The minister says over 7,700 people have expressed an interest in the scheme.

The aim is to have letters of offer being issued by the end of the month, with the confirmation of leavers in June.

Mrs Foster says this is all dependent on the finance being available and this comes under the Stormont House Agreement.

'Punitive intransigence'

Jim Allister

The TUV's Jim Allister asks what happens if the minister is unable to bring a viable Budget No2 Bill in June as a result of the "punitive intransigence" of Sinn Fein.

Mrs Foster says there are contingencies in place and these are "pretty nuclear".

'£500m hole in the budget'

Roy Beggs

The UUP's Roy Beggs asks about the consequences of the "ongoing welfare penalties on public spending".

Mrs Foster says there is a £500m "hole in the budget".

"We have around two weeks to deal with this matter," she adds.

Finance questions.

Arlene Foster

The newly-appointed Finance Minister, Arlene Foster, is answering questions on the floor of the house.

'New bins, please!'

wheelie bins

Judith Cochrane of Alliance asks the minister what advice he has for ratepayers who have been told they must buy a new bin to fit the lorries used by their new council.

Mr Durkan says "this was always going to present as an issue".

He says his department will be able to assist some councils as they roll out new waste collection schemes.

Cycle helmets

Sammy Douglas

Sammy Douglas of the DUP says people who hire bicycles under the new Belfast bicycle scheme "are not provided with a helmet".

He says he was recently in Utrecht in the Netherlands where he saw thousands of cyclists, but only four people with a cycle helmet.

The minister he believes "it is up to the individual" whether cyclists wear a helmet, but he always insists on his son wearing one.

Exit scheme

Rosie McCorley

Sinn Fein's Rosie McCorley asks about the current state of the staff voluntary exit scheme in the Environment Department.

The minister says there will be no compulsory redundancies, and that he has "concerns" about the departure of experienced staff.

He says it is essential that the remaining staff are equipped with the required skills and knowledge.

Question Time

Mark H Durkan

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan is answering questions from MLAs.

Motion passes

The motion is carried, by 55 votes to 32.

'Absolute disgrace'

Mickey Brady

Sinn Fein's Mickey Brady, concluding the debate, says it is his view that the DUP had "circled the wagons".

He describes the party's treatment of councillor Jenny Palmer, who gave evidence to the inquiry several times, as "an absolute disgrace".


Claire Sugden

Independent MLA Claire Sugden, referring to a statement by DUP MLA Gregory Campbell about her late predecessor David McClarty says she is "quite disgusted" and says it shows "disrespect".

'Lack of substance and evidence'

Mervyn Storey

Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey responds to the debate.

He says he will address the report in the chamber, but will answer in greater depth in writing.

Mr Storey says "what we have heard today is lacking in substance and lacking in evidence", and says he trusts the issue is at an end.


Gregory Campbell

The DUP's Gregory Campbell takes aim at the BBC who he says are "great at asking questions but not answering them".

He describes Mr McCausland as "a scapegoat" and says there have been attempts to re-write what happened with Red Sky.

'Abuse of power'

Jim Allister

The TUV's Jim Allister says Mr McCausland's contribution was "an arrogant attempt to defend the indefensible" and describes the former minister's behaviour as "one of the worst excesses of abuse of power that has been seen under devolution".

He describes special advisor Stephen Brimstone, who gave evidence to the committee as "deliberately evasive" and "one in total estrangement with the truth".

'Pre-determined outcome'

Nelson McCausland

Nelson McCausland responds to the report which he says "is not worth the paper it's written on".

He says some of the committee members had a preconceived conclusion and "they weren't going to let the evidence or lack of evidence get in the way of a pre-determined outcome".

Mr McCausland also says he was advised the meeting he had fellow MLAs and representatives of Red Sky was not inappropriate.

It may have been "imprudent", he says, "in that someone might make mischief with it and on reflection, that's what happened".

Debate resumes

Alban Maginness

The SDLP's Alban Maginness picks up the debate after the break.

He says he believes the former minister Nelson McCausland attempted to influence the decision of the housing board and "impeded competition in the public realm".

The minister's intervention would have given the company a commercial advantage, he says.

A brief lunch break

MLAs tare taking a thirty-minute break before returning to the debate.

Join us again at 1pm.

'A disgrace'

Ross Hussey

Ross Hussey of the UUP says "nobody comes out of this with credit from the DUP".

Referring to the political adviser's evidence to the inquiry, he says that "Mr Brimstone was nothing less than a disgrace".


Stewart Dickson

Stewart Dickson of Alliance says he has listened "open-mouthed" in committee to a story that "beggars belief".

Mr Dickson says it is a report that "demands resignations".

He accuses DUP members of being "wedded to the party" rather than the people they represent.

'Political best seller'

Roy Beggs

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs says that if the report "was political thriller it would be a best seller".

He says he suspects the DUP was relieved that the issues contained in the report were not raised before the general election.

TUV leader Jim Allister intervenes to accuse the DUP committee members of providing a "human shield" for Mr Brimstone.

'Political interference'

Dolores Kelly

Dolores Kelly of the SDLP says "there was political interference at the highest level' by the minister and his political adviser, Stephen Brimstone.

Mrs Kelly praises the investigative journalism of the BBC Spotlight programme.

'Trial by media'

Paula Bradley

The DUP's Paula Bradley talks about "almost two long years of work" which could have been better spent by the committee.

She says some committee members came with "a pre-conceived idea" about the events, and that what had resulted was "trial by media".

She says she supported the findings of the minority report.

'Central issue'

The committee chairman says the central issue "was the action taken by the former minister following his decision to meet with East Belfast DUP MLAs and representatives of Red Sky in June 2011".

DUP alternative report

Mr Maskey says DUP members of the committee "opposed the findings of the report and produced an alternative report which was not agreed by the committee".

The DUP minority report was included in the appendices to the report, he says.

Lessons learned

Mr Maskey says a number of lessons have been learned from the inquiry.

He says the amount of evidence collated was "vast".

The chairman expresses frustration at "stonewalling" on the part of the department ad the former minister

Some members were also unhappy about the BBC's refusal to give oral evidence, Mr Maskey says.


Red Sky logo

Earlier this month, a Stormont Committee report found former Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland had acted inappropriately in seeking to extend a Housing Executive contract with a maintenance firm, Red Sky.

It followed a lengthy inquiry, initiated by the Social Development Committee after allegations of political interference were made in a BBC Spotlight Programme.

The committee believed Mr McCausland sought to have a termination notice for the firm extended, despite being aware of the adverse findings of the Executive itself and independent reports into the company's performance, a decision the report said was "politically motivated".

It continued: "It is evident to the committee that regardless of a minister's views, or that of his party, these should not be enacted by seeking to change public contracts that are out with the authority of the minister - as the committee believes happened in this case."

The report also said there was a lack of an investigative process, independent of the political institutions in the assembly's ability to ensure ministerial accountability in the face of charges of misconduct.

The DUP has criticised the report, with the party's east Antrim MLA Sammy Wilson saying "the very fact that some committee members have sought to publish this report during an election is further evidence to it being a politically motivated witch-hunt from beginning to end".

NIHE contracts

Alex Maskey

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey, chairman of the Social Development Committee, introduces the debate on the committee's report on its long-running investigation into alleged impropriety around Housing Executive contracts.

Motions pass

Minister Farry addresses a batch of six proposed regulations dealing primarily with parental pay and people adopting children from overseas.

Robin Swann, speaking on behalf of the Employment Committee says the committee is content for the statutory rules to be confirmed by the Assembly.

All six motions pass on an oral vote