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Live Reporting

Robin Sheeran and Tori Watson

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    Parliament Buildings

    We'll be back tomorrow at 10:00 when Nichola Mallon will update the Infrastructure Committee on continued troubles with MOT vehicle testing services.

    Do join us if you can. In the meantime have a great evening

  2. 'Cooperation with councils is key'

    Foyle SDLP MLA Mark Durkan is also full of praise for greenways.

    He says that when he was a minister he sometimes asked his driver to drop him off six or seven miles away from Stormont so he could run into work.

    Nichola Mallon

    Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon (above) says she wants to encourage greenways.

    "I want to increase the proportion of everyday journeys made by cycling across the north," she says.

    The minister says she believes great progress could be made in the further development of the Comber Greenway through cooperation between her department and the three relevant local councils

    As is usual with adjournment debates there is no vote, and deputy speaker Roy Beggs draws today's business to a close.

  3. "Seven miles of wonderful, tranquil green corridor'

    DUP MLA Harry Harvey (below) says the greenway is "seven miles of the most wonderful tranquil green corridor in the UK".

    He says he would welcome any future improvements or upgrades to the greenway.

    Harry Harvey

    Sinn Féin's Philip McGuigan isn't from East Belfast but he's a keen cyclist and has cycled along the path a couple of times.

    He wants to see the proposed greenway from Ballymena to Cushendall in his North Antrim constituency developed.

  4. 'Ice cream and cake'

    The DUP's Michelle McIlveen and Joanne Bunting are up next.

    They reveal that they enjoy a cycle along the Comber greenway together - and sometimes they go even further to the Connswater greenway and on to Carrickfergus.

    Ms Bunting adds that there's a "benefit of cake and ice cream" in their jaunts, and that "neither of us will deny that. Sometimes you need a bit of an incentive and it certainly works for us," she laughs.


    On a more serious note, both MLA's say there is a need for better lighting to be installed along the path.

    "The truth about the Comber greenway as it currently sits," says Ms Bunting, "if you mistime your cycle you're in pitch black and potentially riding through dog mess."

  5. 'Trees give us oxygen and blackberries'

    The UUP's Andy Allen (below) describes the greenway as "a wonderfully tranquil green corridor"

    He has uncovered statistics that suggest that for every £1 spent on greenways, £4 is generated.

    Andy Allen

    A third East Belfast MLA, Chris Lyttle of Alliance speaks up for the greenway.

    He quotes from a letter he received from a seven-year-old boy when it was under threat from a light rail development:

    "Please keep our greenway. We always cycle on it. The trees give us oxygen and blackberries. Thank you."

  6. More to the Greenway than cycling

    Robin Newton outlines a number of positive aspects of the Comber Greenway.

    While the DUP member mentions the very obvious benefits, such as cycling, walking and dog-walking, he also says it has potential to further develop facilities for events and play facilities for children.


    Mr Newton adds that there's a "need to move to the next stage".

  7. We're not finished just yet...

    Final business for the Assembly is an adjournment motion brought by the DUP's Robin Newton about investment for the Comber Greenway.

    Comber Greenway

    The seven-mile long stretch is a popular spot for pedestrians and cyclists - running from Belfast to Comber along the old railway line which closed in 1950.

    But do members think it's worth injecting more cash into it?

  8. The motion is carried

    77 members voted

    48 voted aye

    29 voted no

    The motion is carried

  9. 'The people in the hills don't get anywhere near that'

    Philip McGuigan winds for the Sinn Féin motion.

    He takes a gallop through the arguments put by the various contributors.

    His party colleague Declan McAleer intervenes to reject a point made earlier by the minister when he said that the average support was 333 euros per hectare in Northern Ireland.

    Philip McGuigan

    "I can tell you, you see up in the hills people don't get near that there. You're talking 100, maybe 80 pounds per hectare entitlements," he says.

    Deputy Speaker Roy Beggs calls an oral vote but the resulting shouts bring no obvious result.

    The members will have to troop through the lobbies to cast their votes.

    It'll take about 15 minutes - see you on the other side.

  10. Areas of natural constraint debate resumes

    With question time out of the way, we're back to the debate on Areas of natural constraint (ANC) that paused before lunch.

    Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots remains at the lectern to replay to the debate.

    He says that "going forward I want to advise support schemes that are good for all our farmers".

    Wide shot of the assembly

    Mr Poots says that when Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill introduced the ANC payments as Agriculture minister, "the business didn't stack up".

    "It was done by ministerial direction, it wasn't done on the basis of an identified need that was supported by a business plan," the minister adds.

  11. 'Walking to school more effective than striking'

    DUP MLA Christopher Stalford asks the minister how he intends to engage young people in planting more trees in Northern Ireland.

    It comes after a pledge from Mr Poots to plant 18m trees at a cost of £80m over the next 10 years to store carbon and improve NI's woodland cover.

    The minister begins by saying young people "are very important in terms of the environmental issue".

    "I would encourage them not to be getting lifts to school, but to either be using public transport or walking, and that would be more effective than strikes," he adds.

    Edwin Poots

    His comments receive a "tut tut" from across the floor - to which Mr Poots responds: "I hear a member tut tutting, but can she argue that it wouldn't be better for the environment if there were less cars sitting outside school gates with the fumes coming out of them?"

    Back to the original question and Mr Poots says he hopes to be joined by 500 young people next week as part of a scheme to plant more trees.

  12. 'The most important insect on the planet - the bee'

    The DUP's Maurice Bradley wants to see a wildflower planting scheme to encourage biodiversity - is the minister up for it?

    "It is a great thing to encourage wildflowers," says Mr Poots, adding that he would be keen to explore the idea.

    Bee and clover

    Mr Bradley says wildflowers provides food for insects, birds and "significantly, the most important insect on the planet - the bee".

    Mr Poots agrees that people often underestimate the work the bee does in sustaining our environment.

  13. 'Not so much a flooding, but a landslide'

    The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan uses Question Time as an opportunity to invite the minister to the Glenelly Valley in his constituency, to visit farmers who suffered as a result of extreme flooding in 2017.

    At least 50mm of rain fell during the three-hour storm in August 2017. You can see the impact of the waterfall in the picture below.

    Glenelly Valley

    Edwin Poots tells Mr McCrossan that he'll consider the invitation, adding that earlier today he had a meeting in which an official described the incident as, "not so much a flooding, but as a landslide".

    "In some instances some of the fields were covered with over a metre of debris and that was obviously impossible to farm on until you made those adjustments that have to be carried out," says Mr Poots.

  14. Slurry spreading and the environment

    Independent MLA Trevor Lunn asks a question about slurry spreading on farmland.

    The minister runs through the current regulation, adding that "soil phosphorous is often above agronomic optimum so there is more work to be done on reducing phosphorous inputs from livestocks and chemical fertilisers".


    Mr Lunn says he has no problem with the regulations, but he does have a problem with the enforcement of them - he says the punishment should fit the crime.

    The minister says "it's a matter for the courts and the courts are independent of the department".

    He says the department takes the prosecutions but it does not decide on the punishment.

  15. 'People try to cheat the system'

    Up next is the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots.

    He's asked by Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan to outline the regulatory and oversight reforms of the Mills Review - which was an independent review of the waste sector.

    Edwin Poots

    Mr Poots says a number of measures have been implemented, but adds: "One can never be certain someone will not try to cheat the system."

    "Nonetheless, I think that this (the action taken) has considerably strengthened things, and we're committed to ensuring people do not get away with these misdemeanours".

  16. Early release of terrorist offenders

    We've reached the section of question time which is set aside for topical questions.

    Sinn Féin's Jemma Dolan want to know the minister's reasons for supporting the UK government's terrorist Offenders Restriction of Early Release Bill to Northern Ireland.

    The minister says there was emergency legislation brought through recently that Northern Ireland was not included in.

    prison bars

    "I think that puts out a potentially quite dangerous message that in some way with Northern Ireland there's a two-tier system when it comes to dealing with terrorist offenders," she says.

    Ms Dolan says human rights organisations "have expressed grave concern at this law".

    "I think that issues around human rights are always at the top of our agenda when it comes to how we deal with people that are offending," says Mrs Long.

  17. Consultation data being analysed

    Sinn Féin's Declan McAleer and the SDLP's Sinéad Bradley both ask the Minister for Justice about any changes she intends to make for those convicted of driving offences - including those that cause death.

    Naomi Long says her department carried out a public consultation, which closed in February and received around 200 responses.

    She adds that once the data is analysed by her department, she hopes it will be available in spring.

    Assembly chamber

    However, the minister adds that "the responsibility for road traffic legislation lies with the Department for Infrastructure".

    She adds: "A wider police review of sentencing for driving under drink or drugs would be a matter for her and her department."

  18. Call to introduce Helen's Law

    The DUP MLA Alex Easton asks if the minister has plans to introduce Helen's Law in Northern Ireland.

    The law, as proposed for England and Wales, will place a legal duty on the parole board to consider the anguish caused by murderers who refuse to disclose the location of a victim’s body when considering release.

    Helen McCourt was murdered in 1998, her body was never recovered and her family has campaigned for the introduction of the law.

    Statue of Justice

    Alex Easton refers to the families of two murder victims, Lisa Dorrian and Charlotte Murray, and asks the minister if she agrees that they have been through "far too much pain, suffering and anguish".

    The minister says she is aware of the families' wish to have Helen's Law extended to Northern Ireland.

    She says she's meeting Charlotte Murray's family soon and will consider the matter in the light of the passage of the England and Wales legislation.

  19. 'Substantial reform will take time'

    DUP MLA Paul Givan asks the Justice minister for an update on recommendations issued as part of the Gillen Review of Civil and Family Justice.

    Naomi Long says "the modernisation" of the system is "one of a number of significant reforms being progressed by the department".

    Naomi Long

    The Alliance MLA adds that the "civil and family justice system has not been subjected to fundamental change for some years and substantial reform will take time".

    But she says, "we have made a good start but with limited resources" adding that the focus so far has been on family law "and we've made good progress in a number of areas".

    Mrs Long says she hopes to build on that progress in the weeks to come.

  20. 'Police don't have powers to seize cans'

    The DUP's Gordon Dunne asks about anti-social behaviour as the warmer weather approaches.

    What is the minister going to do to address the problem?

    Gordon Dunne

    Mrs Long says there is an issue with the police not having the power to seize "open canisters of alcohol".

    "There have been attempts in terms of legislation to address this, however we have been advised that those attempts if enacted would be unsuccessful," the minister says.

    She suggests that the best way forward is in co-operation with the Department of Communities and local councils.