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Live Reporting

Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Parliament Buildings

    Colin McGrath winds up proceedings and Jim Allister will have to wait a few weeks for the committee's decision.

    That's all from the house on the hill for today.

    We'll be back at 10:00 tomorrow for live coverage of the Committee for Communities.

    Do join us then - in the meantime have a great evening.

  2. 'Committee defers a decision on support for the bill'

    Jim Allister wraps up his presentation and Colin McGrath tells the members they now have three options.

    They can decide that they support the general principles of the bill, that they do not support the general principles of the bill or that they do not take a view.

    There follows a fairly nuanced discussion among the members - most of it centred on whether they should await the publication of the RHI Inquiry report before making a decision.

    Pat Sheehan

    Pat Sheehan (above) of Sinn Féin says it's not just a matter of the RHI inquiry report - the finance minister has made proposals, some of which go farther than Mr Allister's.

    "I see no reason why we should be supporting it at all," he says.

    The members vote to postpone their decision until after the publication of the inquiry's report.

  3. SPADs 'should be subject to civil service discipline'

    Mr Allister says he wants to see just four special advisers in the Executive Office.

    "Since special advisers are temporary civil servants, it seems to me incongruous that they are not subject to the disciplinary processes of the civil service," he adds.

    Wide shot of the committee

    The UUP's Mike Nesbitt wants to know why Mr Allister is proceeding with his bill at this point in time when the publication of the RHI Inquiry's report is expected on Friday 13 March.

    "That's why I'm not asking for the second stage debate until after we've seen the report," he replies.

  4. 'It seems quite shocking to me'

    On to the final item of the day, the TUV's Jim Allister (below) is here to brief the committee on his private member's bill designed to make changes to the role of ministerial special advisers (SPADs).

    The assembly's website has more detailed information on the Functioning of Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill here.

    Jim Allister

    Mr Allister explains that the impetus for his bill was the evidence that emerged from the RHI Inquiry.

    "It seems quite shocking to me that the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister had the same number of advisers as the entire Welsh government," he says.

    It's not all about SPADs. The bill also addresses matters such as the failure to take minutes at meetings, the use of unauthorised devices and the unauthorised release of information.

  5. Immigration policy 'not a devolved matter'

    Mike Nesbitt

    The UUP's Mike Nesbitt (above) asks about the points-based immigration policy recently announced by the Home Office, with its salary threshold of £25,600.

    He says representatives of the hospitality and retail sectors have voiced their objections "and we can assume that the agri-food business and fishing fleet are not very happy".

    Mr Nesbitt asks if there has been a failure to persuade the Migration Advisory Committee to recommend a regional variation to the threshold.

    Dr McCormick says officials have been consistently making representations and ministers will continue to make representations on the matter.

    "This is a reserved matter. It certainly isn't a devolved matter," he says.

  6. Brexit is 'a complicated spider's web'

    Karen Pearson

    Karen Pearson (above) explains the role of Executive Office officials in the Brexit process, which is mainly one of co-ordination and strategy setting across the executive departments.

    Colin McGrath says Brexit is "a complicated spider's web".

    He wants to know who will be making the decisions that affect Northern Ireland and what sort of input the assembly can have.

    "The overarching governance in relation to the withdrawal agreement is through a joint committee which is established by the withdrawal agreement and that will be based on very senior level representation from the UK government and the European Commission," says Dr McCormick.

    There will be a number of specialised committees, including one dealing specifically with the Northern Ireland protocol, he explains.

  7. 'Role of the executive's Brexit sub-committee'

    EU and British flags

    Dr McCormick says he's just come from a meeting of the executive's Brexit sub-committee.

    The sub-committee was initiated by the New Decade, New Approach document, which brought about the return of the assembly.

    "They've had a lot of briefings so far on trade, on the agriculture side, sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues, fisheries, justice and transport," he says.

    Regarding the forthcoming negotiations on relations between the UK and the EU, Dr McCormick explains that the EU would like to see an overarching agreement while the UK government prefers to see a number of separate agreements.

    He says that, at this stage, there are "large gaps and very, very material issues for us at the highest levels".

  8. Executive Office Committee

    Colin McGrath

    The SDLP's Colin McGrath (above) chairs the Executive Office Committee - he calls the meeting to order.

    Two departmental officials are giving a briefing on Brexit issues.

    They are director general of international relations, Dr Andrew McCormick, and the director of future EU relations, Karen Pearson.

  9. Break for lunch

    Out to lunch sign

    The planning briefing has overrun by 40 minutes so the members agree to postpone the scheduled briefing on rivers and flooding to a later date.

    Michelle McIlveen runs through some committee housekeeping and draws the meeting to a close.

    We'll be back after lunch with live coverage of the Executive Office Committee.

    TUV leader Jim Allister will brief members on his private member's bill, which aims to change the rules on ministerial special advisers.

    It kicks off at 14:45, do join us then

  10. 'Casement Park decision by Easter a possibility'

    Liz Kimmins of Sinn Féin asks about the long-delayed redevelopment of the GAA's Casement Park stadium in west Belfast.

    She wants to know if the planning decision is still on track for springtime.

    The proposed new Casement Park

    Alistair Beggs says it's an application "where quite diverse views have been expressed to us".

    He says that a decision around Easter time has been mentioned in the media "while I can't confirm that to be the case because it has to run through the processes that is a possibility".

  11. 'We did a heck of a lot of work'

    Chairperson Michelle McIlveen says "2015 was a really difficult year" with the new councils coming into existence and the planning powers transferring.

    "There's an understanding that perhaps there was poor guidance and inadequate training," she says.

    Ms McIlveen asks Mr Kerr if, in hindsight, he would have approached setting up the new system in a different way.

    paperwork

    "We did do a heck of a lot of work around the time leading up to the transfer and after the transfer in terms of preparing for it, capacity building programmes for staff and for members," the official says.

    "It was hugely challenging and there's probably lots of thing that maybe could have been done differently and better," he adds.

  12. Left-wing Irish government unlikely, says Micheál Martin

    Leo Varadkar  and Micheál Martin

    A left-wing government in the Republic of Ireland led by Sinn Féin is very unlikely, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin (above right) has said.

    Mr Martin was speaking after he held a meeting with Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar (above left) on Tuesday.

    It was the first sit-down discussion between the two party leaders since the Irish general election.

    Fianna Fáil won the most seats in the Dail (parliament) in January's election with 38, one ahead of Sinn Fein.

    You can read more about this story here.

  13. '1.5m visitors at Crumlin Road Gaol'

    Director of Strategic planning Alistair Beggs goes into greater detail on specific projects.

    "Last year we issued approvals for the transport hub in Belfast, a cruise ship terminal down at Belfast harbour, also a gas terminal down at Belfast harbour, grade A offices at Ebrington and City Quays in Belfast and urban extensions to Ballyclare," he says.

    Alistair Beggs

    Mr Beggs says the department has been working on further redevelopment at the old Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, which has become a successful tourist attraction with almost 1.5m visitors since it opened in 2012.

    His officials have also been working on the transfer of parts of the St Lucia Barracks in Omagh from the Ministry of Defence to allow for redevelopment there.

  14. 'Some planning targets not being met'

    We're on to the first briefing of the day - on regional planning and strategic planning.

    Chief planner and director of regional planning Angus Kerr (below) reminds members that in 2015 major changes were made to the planning system with the transfer of many planning powers to the local councils.

    Angus Kerr

    Mr Kerr says his department works closely with councils to improve planning performance with targets to be met on local applications at 15 weeks, major applications at 30 weeks, and enforcements at 39 weeks.

    "There's been good process with some of that, particularly around the locals and the enforcement; however there are challenges around major applications and the target isn't being met with those. An average processing time in 18-19 of 59 weeks across all councils," he says.

  15. 'Committee to request briefing on MOT saga'

    Committee chairperson Michelle McIlveen (below centre) of the DUP gets the meeting under way.

    The Alliance Party's Andrew Muir suggests they ask the department for a briefing on the "saga" at Northern Ireland's MOT testing centres.

    Michelle McIlveen

    The vast majority of MOT tests have been suspended indefinitely due to safety concerns about equipment used during the tests.

    UUP MLA Roy Beggs wants to know from the department if new legislation will be required should the problem persist.

  16. This morning's agenda

    agenda
  17. Good morning

    Stormont estate

    Welcome to Parliament Buildings at Stormont for Wednesday's live coverage of business at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    We've got two committee meetings for you today.

    Infrastructure Comittee members will have a briefing on flood precautions this morning and this afternoon the TUV's Jim Allister will brief the Executive Office Committee on his private member's bill, which aims to change the rules on ministerial special advisers.

    The first session kicks off at 10:00, do stay with us through the day if you can.