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Summary

  1. The Infrastructure Committee was briefed on the rights of disabled bus passengers.
  2. MLAs learned about the role of the Rivers Agency and the Drainage Council.
  3. The Equality Commission briefed the Executive Office Committee on equality and good relations.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Brooke Allen

All times stated are UK

Good afternoon

Mike Nesbitt adjourns the meeting.

Join us tomorrow morning at 10:30 BST for live coverage of the Health Committee.

Enjoy your evening.

Ashers Bakery costs

Ashers bakery
BBC

The DUP's Christopher Stalford asks how much the case against Ashers Bakery cost.

Ms Lavery says "I think we paid £44,000 in that case".

Age discrimination breach?

Mike Nesbitt
BBC

Mike Nesbitt asks about a complaint made by the Children's Commissioner regarding OFMDFM (TEO's predecessor) breaching its own equality scheme on "goods, facilities and services and age discrimination".

Eileen Lavery says the investigation is "ongoing", and they have asked TEO for the reasons behind the decision "that the legislation should be restricted to those who are 16, or more".

Equality and Good Relations

Equality Commission officials
BBC

Time now for a briefing from the Equality Commission.

Eileen Lavery, Keith Brown and Darren McKinstry, arrive to speak to the members.

Mr Brown outlines the role of the commission.

'Grand Old Duke of York'

Stewart Dickson of Alliance says there is a problem with "Grand old Duke of York funding".

He gives the example of schools numeracy and literacy projects where, he says, money was provided for teacher training but there was no funding for their application in the classroom.

'Some difficulties'

cash
BBC

Mike Nesbitt asks whether it is good practice for a third of the department's budget to be dependent on in-year monitoring.

"It can create at times some difficulties," Mr Browne replies.

He says he thinks "the system works, and we've been able to make it work". 

Departmental responsibilities

Mark Browne
BBC

Mr Browne outlines some of the major responsibilities of the department.

These include the Delivering Social Change programme and the Together Building a United Community programme.

He says the resource budget for 2016/17 is £59.1m, "which is a reduction of 5% on the opening 15/16 baseline".

TEO briefing

TEO
BBC

Executive Office (TEO) officials Mark Browne, Stephen Boyd and Ricky Irwin arrive to brief the committee on June monitoring, the budget, the Historical and Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry and the equality and good relations strategy. 

Committee for The Executive Office

Executive Committee
BBC

This afternoon's meeting of the Executive Office Committee is being chaired by the UUP's Mike Nesbitt.

Missed Stormont Today?

If you missed last night's Stormont Today, you can watch again here. 

Lunchtime

We will return at 14:00 BST this afternoon with live coverage of the Committee for the Executive Office.   

Committee members will receive a overview briefing from departmental officials on strategic policy, equality & good relations. 

Committee meeting adjourned

The officials leave the meeting. 

Committee members discuss various items of committee business before the meeting is adjourned. 

'Tying it down into specific examples'

Eamonn McCann, from People before Profit, asks if there is not already a "legal entitlement" that people with disabilities are able to access services like everyone else. 

"Aren't all these things covered by anti-discriminatory legislation anyway?" he asks. 

Ms Loughran says that the primary legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act, "does cover most of this, but this is really just tying it down into specific examples".  

New regulations 'deal with the human aspect'

Liz Loughran
BBC

Ms Loughran says proposed new regulations ensure duties on the driver to help "disabled passengers and passengers with restricted mobility" to get on board buses.

She says they "deal with the human aspect", whereas previous regulations dealt only with the technicalities. 

She talks about the "relatively short" consultation period for the proposed regulations (from November to February last year) and the various suggestions for further assisting passengers, as raised by the respondents. 

Bus passenger behaviour

Belfast buses
BBC

Departmental officials,Liz Loughran, Sharon Clements and Sean Coulter join the meeting to brief members on the conduct of passengers and drivers on public service vehicles.   

High tides in Strangford

The Alliance Party's Kellie Armstrong speaks about high tides in her constituency of Strangford and asks if rural-proofing be brought into consideration 

Mr Porter says "rural proofing is a new piece of legislation" and will have to be taken into consideration but "the fundamentals will not change". 

"If something isn't cost beneficial, it doesn't matter whether it is in the town or the city, we cannot spend money where it is not cost beneficial," he says. 

'Teeth' or 'talking shop'?

William Humphrey, asks if the Drainage Council "has teeth" or if it is simply "a talking shop"? 

Mr Strong says he thinks it has both. 

"It has teeth undoubtedly in terms of designating the water courses, the sea defences, the emergency works, the maintenance programmes and the ongoing capital in recurrent maintenance," he says. 

"I also believe it is a talking shop in terms of, it is an opportunity as a consultee," he adds. 

Northern Ireland Drainage Council

Alan Strong
BBC

Alan Strong, who chairs the Northern Ireland Drainage Council, has joined Mr Porter to brief committee members on the work of the council. 

Flooding in Clady

Submerged car
BBC
Clady suffered serious flooding in December 2015

The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan asks about floods in the County Tyrone village of Clady and how the area can be protected in the future. 

Mr Porter agrees that the area had an "extremely hard time". 

"We are looking to see if there is a viable scheme to be done around Clady, to see whether we can increase that level of protection, both in terms of the level [of the river] but also in terms of the robustness of the defences, to see if there is anything we can do to make those be able to withstand future flood events and that work is ongoing," he says. 

Departmental cuts

Eamonn McCann
BBC

People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann asks how capital cuts have affected the department. 

Mr Porter says that through the voluntary exit scheme and other reasons, the agency has been "reduced by about 15% in headcount terms". 

"You cannot run an organisation with 15% less staff and work exactly how you did. We are prioritising what we do," he says. 

Mr Porter says, in the future, he hopes the department will bring in graduates trainees as that is "what grows the engineers of the future". 

Dumping of animals in rivers

Sinn Féin's Declan McAleer asks if there needs to be some "joined-up approach" to deal with issues such as dead animals being dumped in rivers. He makes reference to a specific case in his own constituency where an animal was not removed, despite his attempts to contact various bodies.  

Mr Porter says the agency "have powers to step in to carry out emergency works" if the situation has "immediate threat and is causing an impediment to the free flow of water". 

Flood plains in Lagan Valley

Jenny Palmer
BBC

Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer asks about flood plains in her constituency, Lagan Valley. 

She talks specifically about the closure of the roads from Blaris to Moira for a number of days each time flooding occurs. 

Mr Porter says that a flood plain filling up is "exactly the way a river is supposed to work". 

"That is storing water and protecting Lisburn and Belfast," he says. 

Capital works

William Humphrey asks "what proactive work has been done since the difficulties we incurred last year?". 

Mr Porter says "we have been typically investing £8.5m per year into our programme for capital works". 

The chairperson then asks if Europe is able to help with funding. 

Mr Porter says the Rivers Agency places bids into the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF). 

The EUSF was set up to respond to major natural disasters and express European solidarity to disaster-stricken regions within Europe. 

'Minimising and managing flood risk'

David Porter
BBC

Mr Porter gives a presentation on the strategic direction of flood risk management.

"We are an organisation that is focused on minimising and managing flood risk," he says. 

Rivers Agency

The committee are receiving a departmental briefing from Mr David Porter. 

Mr Porter is the head of Rivers Agency, the flood defence and drainage authority for Northern Ireland. 

Rivers agency van at flood
BBC

The Rivers Agency is responsible for river and sea defence maintenance, the construction of flood alleviation schemes, the provision of flood maps and risk information.    

In the chair

William Humphrey
BBC

The DUP's William Humphrey is chairing this morning's meeting of the infrastructure committee. 

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to today's coverage of the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

We will have live coverage of the infrastructure committee this morning from 10:00 BST. 

Members will be briefed by departmental officials on the Rivers Agency, the Northern Ireland Drainage Council and the conduct of passengers on public vehicles.