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Live Reporting

Robin Sheeran and Tori Watson

All times stated are UK

  1. Catch you tomorrow

    Stormont

    That's all for today folks.

    We'll be back in tomorrow morning with more committee action starting with the Health Committee at 10:30.

    Be sure to join us if you can.

  2. 'You cut me off last week'

    The briefing having ended, chairperson Colin McGrath suggests to the members that they reconsider the time they spend asking questions.

    "We did leave officials sitting outside for 45 minutes today," he says.

    Mr McGrath says that when he was on the Education Committee members were rationed to one question and one supplementary.

    Fra McCann

    Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann (above) isn't happy. "One question leads into another," he says.

    Trevor Clarke agrees. "You cut me short last week," he says. He says the members can't curtail the questions as they are there to scrutinise.

    "I think we could exercise a bit more more discipline," chips in independent MLA Trevor Lunn.

  3. 'Any action over Irish language and Culture Commissioners?'

    Emma Sheerin asks the panel what stage the "time bound commitments in relation to Irish language and Culture Commissioners" included in the New Deal, New Approach deal are at.

    Chris Stewart responds that he "can't give a detailed picture today" but that he can provide members with that information at a later stage.

    Committee

    "Given the centrality of these actions to the agreement, and their political significance - they are a priority and work is under way," he adds.

  4. 'Any progress on the programme for government?'

    Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan says the executive has had two away days in the past eight weeks to work on a programme for government.

    "Can you report any progress?" he asks Chris Stewart

    paperwork

    "Yes. We're not at the point yet where there's a draft to share, or a draft budget, but those were two very productive discussions," the official replies.

    He says that if they are to meet the expectations of the New Decade, New Approach document "we need to have this by April".

  5. 'Great deal in new agreement to be delivered'

    Chris Stewart say the executive is "looking to deliver" on the New Decade New Approach deal.

    He says there is a "great deal in NDNA to be delivered".

    Chris Stewart

    But, he adds that delivery on the deal is also based "on the financial settlement not being as generous as the parties wished for" from the Treasury, "and existing pressures across government departments".

  6. Outcomes Delivery Plan briefing

    Next up we have a briefing from Executive Office (TEO) officials on the departmental outcomes delivery plan (ODP).

    Chris Stewart (below centre) leads the TEO delegation and he's accompanied by Caroline Gillan and Geoffrey Simpson who work on the executive's programme for government.

    The witnesses

    Mr Stewart says the ODP was introduced as an interim measure when there were no executive ministers in post.

    "The ODP has been central to public service delivery since 2018," he says.

  7. 'Dependency and trauma'

    The DUP's Christopher Stalford asks Judith Thompson about prescription drug-use as a result of trauma.

    The commissioner says there is "documentary evidence around extremely high levels of prescription" around Northern Ireland.

    Christopher Stalford

    "Lifelong habituation, dependency and other substances, is a direct result of trauma," Mrs Thompson adds.

  8. 'In my eyes they were all terrorists'

    The DUP's Trevor Clarke tells the committee that his brother-in-law was murdered during the Troubles.

    "I don't care which label we give individuals who perpetrated murder - in my eyes they were all terrorists. On both sides" he says.

    Trevor Clarke

    Mr Clarke also makes reference to the Stormont House Agreement.

    He says: "It may have got broad political support, but I don't believe it got broad political support within our communities - each of the communities that we come from."

    "When you equate someone who went out to take another man or woman's life, as someone the same as the person they tried to murder – as an equal - I don’t think it will ever wash."

  9. 'I'd be surprised if there isn't a legal challenge'

    Pat Sheehan asks about people who are excluded from the scheme and says there's "a lack of clarity in the guidelines".

    Ms Thompson says she believes the legislation "is wide open".

    Wide shot of the committee

    She says she thinks there is the likelihood that the mechanism "will end up being determined in the courts".

    "Do you expect a legal challenge?" asks Pat Sheehan.

    "I would be very surprised, speaking personally, if there isn't one" the commissioner replies.

  10. 'My advice wasn't followed in a number of respects'

    Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan puts it to the commissioner that her advice to the UK government was ignored when it came to drawing up the victims' scheme.

    "My advice was not followed in a number of respects," Ms Thompson replies.

    Pat Sheehan

    "I have consistently said, whoever has been asking me the questions, that it was never acceptable to do nothing for anyone because we couldn't do something that was going to meet with everyone's wishes, or the political narratives which thread through this," she says.

  11. 'A lot of proactive work at community level'

    The discussion turns to the affect of mental health on communities.

    Sinn Féin's Fra McCann talks about the delay in GP waiting times and asks if the panel believe there is scope for other service provides within communities to help with those suffering difficulties with their mental health.

    Paul Crawford says there is "a lot of proactive work" of this type going on in areas such as the Collin neighbourhood in west Belfast.

    Paul Crawford

    "People who make the difference of mental health well-being are people who know you - not necessarily professionals," says Mr Crawford.

    "They can support you, help you and get you to a point where you might go to a professional."

  12. 'Our challenge is to lighten your load'

    The UUP's Mike Nesbitt (below) says he agrees with an earlier comment from Paul Crawford of the Victims and Survivors Forum.

    "I agree with you, I don't think there's any such thing as closure. I think there's a burden that you're going to carry to the grave and our challenge is to try to lighten that load," he says.

    Mike Nesbitt

    Mr Nesbitt asks about criteria for people applying to the forthcoming victims' payments scheme for the most severely injured.

    Ms Thompson says she recommended that the scales be based on the industrial injuries compensation scheme and the armed forces compensation scheme.

  13. Coronavirus a 'main priority'

    In other political news, the first minister has said tackling coronavirus is her main priority.

    The DUP's Arlene Foster made the comments after she and the deputy First Minister announced they planned to scale back their annual St Patrick's Day trip to the United States.

    Arlene Foster

    Mrs Foster said she and Mrs O'Neill took the decision over the weekend to limit their trip as "we felt we needed to be here for emergency meetings".

    You can read more about the symptoms associated with Coronavirus here.

  14. 'I have concerns'

    The chair of the Executive Office Committee, Colin McGrath asks Judith Thompson if there's been any progress on the introduction of legislation for victims and survivors.

    This pledge was made within the New Decade New Approach deal.

    It said within 100 days of devolution being restored at Stormont, the government would introduce legislation to implement the 2015 legacy deal - the Stormont House Agreement.

    Committee for the Executive Office

    The victims' commissioner says she is "not privy to any recent update on the progress of those proposals".

    She adds that she is conscious "that those 100 days are passing".

    "I think it would be fair to say I have concerns," Mrs Thompson adds.

  15. A new strategy for victims and survivors

    Ms Thompson reminds the members that the Strategy for Victims and Survivors formally ended in 2019 and a new strategy could not be put in place as there were no ministers in place to take it forward.

    She says she provided advice to the Executive Office, making recommendations regarding the extension of the funding for the victims and survivors scheme.

    Children next to a fire

    The commissioner says her advice also covered other matters to be addressed by a new strategy.

    These include how best to support the bereaved, how best to support those living outside Northern Ireland and the need to look at gender-based issues.

  16. 'Deal with the past, or it will continue to deal with us'

    In her opening remarks, Judith Thompson emphasises that "people who suffered harm have waited too long for effective institutions to be established to address their rights and their needs".

    The Victims' Commissioner adds: "It is more expensive and more costly in terms of harm, to leave things as they are, than it would be to introduce new institutions that could deliver better outcomes for victims and survivors."

    Judith Thompson

    "It is a societal issue and, if we do not deal with the past, it will continue to deal with us," she adds.

  17. '213,000 people suffering from mental health issues'

    Judith Thompson, the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, introduces her fellow witnesses.

    They are Paul Crawford and Lesley Veronica of the Victims and Survivors Forum and the Commission's Chief Executive, Andrew Sloan.

    Paul Crawford, Judith Thompson, Lesley Veronica and Andrew Sloan.

    She says that 26% of people in Northern Ireland are either affected personally, or have a family member affected, by a conflict-related incident.

    Ms Thompson informs the members of the 3,720 conflicted-related deaths between 1966 and 2006, 40,000 people injured and "213,000 people experiencing significant range of mental health issues which need to be addressed now".

  18. Executive Office Committee meeting

    Chairperson Colin McGrath (below) gets the ball rolling for this afternoon's meeting of the Committee for the Executive Office.

    Colin McGrath

    There are two Q&A sessions listed - one's an overview briefing with thew Victims and Survivors Commission and the second is a briefing from officials about the department's outcomes delivery plan.

  19. Still to come...

    After lunch, we'll be joining the Committee for the Executive Office.

    You can see what's on the agenda below.

    Join us form 14:00.

    Committee for the Executive Office
  20. Approval for electric bike regulations

    The Translink officials depart and we're on to some minor legislation for the members to examine.

    There's a brief discussion on the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations.

    Electric bike

    Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where electric bike users must have a licence.

    The new regulations will designate a class of electric bike that will not be considered a motor vehicle.

    The members agree that the change is long overdue.