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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today


    It's been a long day on the hill - a very long one if your name is Conor Murphy.

    We'll be back at 09:00 tomorrow when the Education Committee will be having some briefings on Covid response.

    And in the afternoon, the journalist and author Sam McBride will be giving evidence at the Finance Committee.

    In the meantime, keep safe and enjoy what's left of your evening.

  2. Budget Bill passes on oral vote

    Christopher Stalford

    Members are then invited to vote orally on the motion by the principal deputy speaker.

    There is one contrary voice from People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll.

    His opposition is recorded and the motion passes.

    Christopher Stalford then adjourns the sitting for the day.

  3. Minister wraps on motion

    The finance minister begins his wrap on the motion.

    Conor Murphy says a review has been commissioned to ensure departments “spend out” what they have been allocated, and if not these funds can be used elsewhere.

    He says the gathering of figures into a single document has been difficult as many civil servants are working from home.

    The minister says he intends to have a draft budget before the house in September.

    In reply to Matthew O'Toole's query about the review of priorities post-Covid, Mr Murphy says before the pandemic the executive had met to discuss what it wanted to achieve “in the way ahead”.

    He says he has no doubt the executive will get back to that.

    “This thing has gone on so long I’m starting to merge some of the conversations from one debate to the next,” the minister says.

    Conor Murphy

    A number of people have mentioned the idea of “future work” he says, adding that coronavirus has highlighted “if we need to react, we can set aside the red tape”.

    “In terms of FDI (foreign direct investment), we’re going to have to recognise that FDI is not something that is going to be possible,” says Mr Murphy in response to points raised by Jonathan Buckley on corporation tax.

    In response to a point raised by his party colleague Karen Mullan about childcare, the minister says it is “well made”. He adds it was a sector which was recognised “would struggle in the time ahead”.

    Mr Murphy replies to Kellie Armstrong's concerns about financing for NI Water and Translink.

    He says “undoubtedly the infrastructure minister is aware of the need for investment in NI Water and Translink”.

    Mr Murphy thanks members for the points they have raised during the debate and urges them to support the bill.

  4. Call for a tax on the wealthy

    Gerry Carroll

    Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit is also concerned about scrutiny and accountability given that the bill was introduced just a few hours earlier.

    He says the parties have been told they must submit any amendments by tomorrow.

    Mr Carroll says he will be voting against the budget, which "even at a glance looks like a continuation of neo-liberalism and, dare I say it, austerity politics".

    He calls on the minister to declare his support for an emergency tax on the wealthy and the corporations "and if not, why not?"

  5. 'This year’s budget is a moving feast'

    Alliance’s Kellie Armstrong says “as we’ve heard today this year’s budget is a moving feast”.

    She says the amounts being issued to departments to help deal with Covid-19 have been changing frequently, but thanks the minister for getting to this point.

    Ms Armstrong outlines a number of reasons why “some parties joined the executive” and says some of these were included in New Decade, New Approach.

    The Strangford MLA says she recognises departments have “huge costs” at this moment in time but is also aware there are some projects not being taken forward due to Covid.

    Kellie Armstrong

    Rachel Woods of the Green Party raises concerns about voting on legislation on the same day as it is introduced.

    She says the health minister has stated in an executive briefing that a second wave of Covid-19 is expected and asks what contingency plans the finance minster has in place for this situation.

    Ms Woods asks about the economic recovery plan the minister said would be discussed at the executive on Thursday, saying she believes any plan should be “long term”.

    Rachel Woods
  6. 'The structural failings of austerity'

    Cathal Boylan of Sinn Féin talks about the "structural failings of austerity" represented by potholes, street lighting and road repairs.

    He says the pressures posed by Covid have been "compounded by the failure of the British government to honour their commitments within the New Decade, New Approach.

    Cathal Boylan

    Sinéad Ennis of Sinn Féin says the experience of Covid is "set against the grim and ghoulish backdrop of years British government and Tory austerity".

    She says some people in the chamber don't wan't to hear about austerity because "it makes them feel uncomfortable".

  7. 'People of the north need to have faith in their government'

    Sinn Féin’s Declan McAleer welcomes the funding the finance minister released for the Department of Agriculture.

    He says the £25m has been “warmly welcomed by the sector”, and adds that the priority sectors appear to be the diary and horticulture sector.

    The chair of the Agriculture Committee outlines the drop in price of beef during the pandemic and says for many of these farmers, “they have to contend with the loss of the ANC (Areas of Natural Constraints) payment this year as well”.

    Mr McAleer also raises concerns he has around Brexit and future funds for those in the farming community.

    Declan McAleer

    Colin McGrath of the SDLP outlines the situation in which the budget has been made, and discusses the “new norm” resulting from Covid-19.

    He says the "architects and peacemakers of ’98" understood “our response to the critical matters of the day” could not be addressed based on individual constituency issues.

    Mr McGrath says “the people of the north need to have faith in their government” adding that work carried out by the assembly must be “for all people”.

    “We need to match our spending to a set of coherent policies,” says the SDLP representative.

    Colin McGrath
  8. 'No acceptable level of poverty'

    Karen Mullan of Sinn Féin is concerned about the future of the education service.

    She also makes a point about the new Magee medical school in her Foyle constituency, saying it is an example "of what can and should be done" with public funding.

    "There should not be an acceptable level of poverty," she says, before giving her backing to the budget.

    Karen Mullan

    John Blair of Alliance thanks the minister for the work he and his officials have been doing in response to the Covid crisis.

    We are "massively indebted to those officials," he says.

    Mr Blair wants to be sure that the necessary financial resources are in place for the expanded infrastructure at ports required by the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol.

  9. 'We’re continually repeating ourselves'

    Colm Gildernew declares an interest in as he is on a career break from his role as a social worker, and his wife is a nurse in the community.

    He turns to comments raised around austerity.

    The Sinn Féin representative says that there was a lack of PPE at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic due to “public health preparedness being stripped out of the system because of austerity”.

    The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA says he supports the bill.

    Colm Gildernew

    Sinead McLaughlin of the SDLP says “it’s hard to have a new speech when we've done so many”.

    She adds, “we’re continually repeating ourselves”.

    Ms McLaughlin says it’s just over 240 days before Brexit is due to happen and refers about the prime minister’s views on an extension for the transition period - something she says he will not do.

    “While Covid-19 is in the immediate term a complete disaster for the economy, we should not overlook the reality of Brexit over the longer term,” she says.

    Ms McLaughlin says "we need to know what is going on" in relation to Brexit and the "plans of our own government" when it comes to the Magee medical school.

    Sinead McLaughlin
  10. 'There must be no return to austerity'

    Caoimhe Archibald of Sinn Féin chairs the Economy Committee.

    She says "we are living in exceptional times and can no longer apply the rule book we have lived with for so long".

    Ms Archibald says the committee would like to see the executive "apply this budget in a creative way".

    Speaking as her party's economy spokesperson, she says there must be no return to austerity after the Covid crisis as "that would simply compound the disaster"

    Caoimhe Archibald

    Gordon Dunne of the DUP says it's vital that everyone should take part in "the recovery and rebuilding process".

    He pays tribute to the role of his party colleague the Economy Minister Diane Dodds, listing the numerous business support schemes she has been involved in.

  11. 'We cannot blame austerity for all our budgetary problems'

    Andrew Muir of Alliance says his party supports the budget even though he describes it as “not perfect”.

    He says “we cannot allow the same mistakes” to be made as those during the previous economic downturn, he tells the assembly.

    “We’re all very well aware this budget has been overshadowed by Covid-19,” he adds.

    “The measures which have been taken thus far have been taken with good justification,” but he says there is more the executive could do for some, including sole traders.

    Turning to Brexit, Mr Muir says the potential consequences of a no deal could be “severe” for NI.

    The North Down MLA says “we cannot blame austerity for all our budgetary problems”.

    Andrew Muir

    Jonathan Buckley of the DUP says after “three years of silence in the chamber", when devolution was restored, he made his maiden speech during a budget debate.

    He says there has been little chance for committees to scrutinise the budget allocations but adds that he is aware of the constraints Covid has placed on the process.

    Mr Buckley says there was an agreement among members in January about the need to work towards improving services for people’s mental health.

    He says is something which will increase in importance as a result of Covid and hopes that more can be done to help in this area.

    Jonathan Buckley
  12. Getting tens of millions out the door'

    Seán Lynch of Sinn Féin says he's glad that Mr Frew didn't blame the minister for Covid as "he usually blames him for everything else".

    He praises "for getting tens of millions out the door" to save business.

    Having promised the principal deputy speaker he'd keep his speech short, Mr Lynch says he backs the bill.

    Matthew O'Toole

    Matthew O'Toole (above) of the SDLP says that as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis "it's extremely important that we take the opportunity to take a long, calm look at our priorities as a region and as an executive".

    He says it's vital that spending be set into programme for government targets.

  13. 'Our last line of defence is the committee structure'

    The DUP’s Paul Frew says he understands the pace of the procedure being brought forward, but he doesn’t like it due to concerns over scrutiny.

    “We should be having debates in this place around aligning a budget for government, but we aren’t, we can’t,” he says.

    Mr Frew says there are “big ticket issues” that haven’t been looked at due to Covid.

    “Our last line of defence is the committee structure", says Mr Frew.

    He says committees need to given information to be able to complete their function as effectively as possible.

    Paul Frew

    The North Antrim MLA asks “surely there’s something in each department that doesn’t need the money, the funding, the spend on”.

    “To do something differently we’re more effective, we’re more efficient,” he says.

    He says “we need to step forward in a strategic fashion” and calls to see the draft financial budget for next year by September.

  14. 'Operating under circumstances that are out of the ordinary'

    Steve Aiken is the chairperson of the Finance Committee and says the budget bill on the table today enables “further statutory authority” until the main estimates are voted on later in the year by the assembly.

    He says “we are all operating under circumstances that are out of the ordinary” due to Covid-19.

    Mr Aiken says last week the committee was briefed on the necessity for a further budget bill.

    He says “we are entering a critical phase” and that the focus needs to be turned to the “medium and longer term”.

    The UUP leader says members acknowledged that the department had stepped up to the mark to respond to the needs of businesses throughout the pandemic, but is aware some have fallen through the cracks.

    He says there are thousands who are not sure if they will be in business in the medium term.

    Steve Aiken

    “The committee agreed at its meeting last week that it was content to grant accelerates passage,” says Mr Aiken.

    He says he supports the bill on behalf of the committee and Ulster Unionist Party.

  15. Second Stage of the Budget (No.2) Bill

    Finance Minster Conor Murphy is back at the lectern - this time for the second stage of the Budget Bill.

    He explains that the current financial situation is unprecedented and could not have been envisaged when the previous budget bill was being considered in the assembly in February, "however it is hoped that we will soon be able to return to some degree of normality to the financial process".

    Wide shot of the assembly

    "The Covid-19 response has not impacted all departments in the same way. The additional allocations have been made by the executive have been targeted at the highest priority measures. The measures fall to a number of departments," the minister explains.

    "This legislation is required to ensure that public services can continue to be delivered during this Covid-19 response period as we begin to emerge from the lockdown," Mr Murphy concludes.

  16. 'This is a huge breach and it's very damaging'

    Mike Nesbitt of the UUP asks about the governance of a sponsored department and "a body like this". He asks is there is a "management statement and financial memorandum" and if so, what does it say about data breach and actions to be taken in these instances.

    Mrs Foster replies that the interim advocate's office is an independent body that operates under the "normal accountability mechanisms" of an arms-length body of the department.

    Rachel Woods of the Green Party asks when a new advocate is due to be appointed and if there has been any delay due to Covid.

    The first minister says the process will begin next week and that the process will likely take until August before a commissioner is in place.

    "That leaves a period of time where we will continue to work with the interim advocate," says Mrs Foster.

    Arlene Foster

    Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit asks "what steps have been taken to ensure something like this can never happen again".

    Mrs Foster says she recognises that anonymity is the only shield that has been left to many victims.

    "This is a huge breach and it’s very damaging and therefore the appropriate action needs to be taken," she says.

    The DUP's Gordon Dunne asks for an update on any redress payments which have been made to victims.

    Mrs Foster says it was open for applications on 31 March and "seven weeks later the first compensation payments have been made".

    She calls it a "very significant milestone" and says it's "good we are making progress in relation to that".

  17. Investigation should take 'days rather than weeks'

    The DUP's Jonathan Buckley says the breach has caused “a great deal of distress” and asks the first minster for a timescale for an apology and when the investigation will be complete.

    Mrs Foster replies that she expects the investigation to be completed in “days rather than weeks” in terms of the “fact-finding piece”.

    She describes it as a "very neat piece of work", adding "there's not too much that needs to be looked into".

    She says it "shouldn't take too much time to get to the bottom of".

    arlene Foster

    In relation to an apology to victims, Mrs Foster says this "very much something we want to progress" and repeats considerations which are ongoing around language.

    She says when language is worked through a submission will be sent to the department and then taken to the executive.

  18. 'Finding appropriate language for an apology'

    Paula Bradshaw of Alliance asks if it's not time that the executive issued "the formal apology as outlined in Sir Anthony Hart's recommendations in the inquiry".

    She says she thinks it is "long gone time that they should have received that".

    Mrs Foster says these developments do not make it any easier "to find the appropriate language that the victims would like to see" in an apology.

    Paula Bradshaw

    She says the Executive Office and the interim advocate have been considering examples from Australia, Canada and the Republic of Ireland to help come up with a suitable form of apology.

    The first minister says alternative arrangements have had to be found since some of the victims do not wish to engage with the interim advocate.

  19. 'Anonymity was the only armour victims had in fight for justice'

    Doug Beattie of the UUP calls the data breach “devastating” and says “anonymity was the only armour they had in their long fight for justice and recognition”.

    He calls the response to it has been “inadequate” and asks the minster to outline the data break protocols that are in place, and that should have been followed when there was a serious data breach,

    Doug Beattie

    Mrs Foster says she doesn’t have the protocols with her today but is happy to get that information to the member.

    She says she is aware the breach was recognised “very quickly” and “to be fair to the interim advocates office” she says the Executive Office was made aware shortly after.

    “I am satisfied it was communicated in a timely fashion, but of course it should never have happened in the first place,” she says.

  20. Attempt to recall email

    Linda Dillon of Sinn Féin says “we’re dealing with people who have no confidence in hierarchy and government" as she says they have been let down on many occasions.

    She wants some reassurance that all of those on the list have been informed of the data breach.

    Mrs Foster replies “as I understand it, once the breach was identified, and it was identified pretty quickly, there was an immediate attempt to recall the email."

    "When that didn't work, there was a request to delete the email to all the recipients and then later on an apology was also sent to all recipients," she adds.


    Mrs Foster says she would be "concerned" if Mrs Dillon was indicating that some people had not been contacted and calls for Mrs Dillon to come to the department with any information she may have on this front.