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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for now

    Stormont

    Deputy chair John Stewart wraps up the meeting.

    That's all from Stormont for today.

    We'll be back at 10:00 tomorrow for this week's meeting of the Agriculture Committee, including briefings on climate change and the Horse Racing Bill.

    Do join us then. And in the meantime enjoy the rest of your day.

  2. Written briefing on NI Protocol

    The committee room

    Colin McGrath thanks the officials for their presentation.

    There's a brief discussion on the content of the oral briefing from officials before the members move on to the next item on the agenda.

    It's a written briefing on the UK Approach to the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol.

  3. 'Inequalities highlighted in the document'

    Emma Sheerin

    Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin asks about “the inequalities that are highlighted in the document”.

    She raises concern that there’s “not much of a focus on the fact that people from ethnic minorities, migrant workers, asylum seekers have been impacted by Covid”.

    Executive Office official Karen Pearson says the department is due to speak to the Equality Commission this week.

  4. 'What if there was another lockdown?'

    George Robinson

    The DUP's George Robinson asks what would happen if there were another lockdown.

    "Is there a contingency plan that the department would have in case we're back to square one again?" he asks.

    Karen Pearson emphasises the importance of the vaccination programme and encouraging people to take part as "it's how we'll get through".

    The official says ministers would do all they could to avoid another lockdown and this is why the executive is being so cautious regarding the easing of restrictions.

  5. 'A connection between this plan and where executive funding might land?'

    Diane Dodds

    “Is there a connection between this plan and where the executive might land when the spending review and the three-year budget system is in place?” asks Diane Dodds of the DUP.

    “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on the funding allocations, that would be for the executive to decide,” says Karen Pearson.

    “All I can say is we’ve been working at pace for the delivery of this plan,” adds the Executive Office official.

  6. 'What does the Executive Office bring to the party?'

    Trevor Lunn

    Trevor Lunn is one of the few members sitting in the committee room.

    The Independent MLA says there are departments that are already working hard on Covid recovery issues, citing the health and economy departments as examples.

    What does the involvement of the TEO "bring to the party", he asks.

    "We should acknowledge that there's a huge amount of work going on across all the departments," says Karen Pearson.

    She emphasises the importance of coordination and says she doesn't think that citizens divide issues that affect them into "departmental buckets".

  7. Long-term underlying regional imbalances

    Sinn Féin’s Pat Sheehan asks about long-term underlying issues such as low employment levels, low income and other regional imbalances.

    Karen Pearson from the department explains that one strand of the proposed recovery plan takes account of these types of issues.

    “When can we expect to see a finalised programme for government?” asks Mr Sheehan.

    “There's a lot of work going on to move it on, but I think that’s probably all I can say at the moment,” responds Ms Pearson.

  8. 'These are things that need to happen'

    John Stewart

    Ulster Unionist John Stewart is up next.

    He says he agrees with most of the plan but his concern is the same as with other great strategies that "we never actually see them come to fruition".

    How can it be ensured that the strategy actually happens, he asks.

    "This is a 24-month plan. It's been endorsed by the executive, almost certainly out of necessity because these are the things that need to happen," Ms Pearson says, adding that it's inevitable that it will change.

  9. 'The importance of the vaccination programme'

    Colin McGrath

    As chairperson of the committee, Colin McGrath has the first bite at questions.

    The SDLP MLA wants to know about the Covid-19 vaccination programme and the associated messaging coming from the executive.

    “The executive has recognised from the outset the importance of the vaccination programme,” says Karen Pearson.

    She adds that the programme itself is led by the Health Department.

    Peter Luney says the Executive Office is now using “social media channels”, including Tik Tok and Snapchat, to increase vaccination numbers.

  10. Covid Recovery Plan briefing

    Executive Office (TEO) official Karen Pearson begins the briefing.

    She says she'll outline the plan under four main headings.

    The first is making a difference to people, the second is collaboration and the importance of the plan being "more than the sum of its parts", thirdly why the plan contains what it does, and finally the executive's commitment going forward.

    Karen Pearson

    She says that collaboration of the type that was seen during the height of the pandemic will be necessary during the recovery.

    "We will have to remain agile and responsive," Ms Pearson adds.

    She outlines the contents of the executive's Building Forward Recovery Plan.

    "It's important that we continue to work across government to ensure consistency of messaging and to provide a clear road map," Ms Pearson says.

  11. Committee opens to the public

    Colin McGrath

    Colin McGrath of the SDLP chairs the Committee for the Executive Office.

    He runs through some housekeeping business, including updating members on the latest communications that have been received from officials.

    He then welcomes today's witnesses, who are here to brief the members on the executive's Covid Recovery Plan.

    They are Ms Karen Pearson, Mr Peter Luney and Ms Jane Holmes from the Executive Office.

  12. What's happening at the Executive Office Committee?

    We're back from lunch and joining the Committee for the Executive Office.

    Here's an overview of today's agenda.

    NI Assembyl
  13. Time for lunch

    Stormont

    It’s been a busy morning for the committee, and it’s no surprise proceedings have overrun.

    In order to bring you live coverage of the Executive Office Committee this afternoon we’re going to leave the Education Committee to continue their deliberations.

    We’ll be back at 14:00 - join us then.

  14. Has the department has gone to war with this bill?

    Justin McNulty

    Justin McNulty of the SDLP says the first time he met a Protestant was when he played a cross-community sporting event when he was at school.

    He describes the aspiration of the bill as “noble” but says “the department has gone to war with this bill”.

    “I don’t think it’s the case that the department has gone to war with the bill,” responds Alison Chambers.

    The departmental official adds that an “ultimate aim” is for children to learn together, but “there are some technical difficulties with this bill and we need to look carefully at the impact if it goes through bas it is currently drafted”.

  15. Projected growth of the integrated sector?

    Nicola Brogan

    Sinn Féin MLA Nicola Brogan asks for information on the projected growth of the integrated sector if the bill were not enacted.

    "That would be for the planners on the ground," replies departmental official Janis Scallon.

    She says that while 14% of children who made an integrated school their first choice were not placed in an integrated school "there are still over 1,400 places available at integrated schools at post-primary".

  16. 'Minister is going to make an announcement quite soon'

    Robbie Butler

    “Can you give us an update on the independent review of education?” asks Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler.

    “The minister is going to make an announcement on the review quite soon,” responds Alison Chambers.

    Shirley Sweeney, also from the Education Department adds that work is expected to commence as soon as the panel undertaking the review is announced.

  17. 'The bill lacks clarity'

    Daniel McCrossan

    The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan asks about legal problems concerning definitions of types of schools.

    Alison Chambers replies that controlled integrated schools are not included in the bill as it is written and this could cause difficulties.

    Mr McCrossan asks about a potential for existing integrated schools to lose their status.

    Ms Chambers says this is why she has highlighted the possibility of judicial review "because the bill lacks clarity".

  18. 'There will definitely be judicial reviews'

    Pat Sheehan

    West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan queries the impact the Integrated Education Bill could have on the Irish-Medium sector.

    “It affects every education sector the way it’s drafted,” responds official Alison Chambers.

    The Sinn Féin representative then turns to the financial implications of the bill.

    Ms Chambers replies: “It’s difficult to put a number on that just at the minute.”

    “If it passes in its current form there will be significant impact on all of the department’s policies, procedures, strategies,” she adds.

    “There will definitely be judicial reviews if it passes in its current format.”

  19. 'To what extent are children in NI educated together?'

    Committee chair Chris Lyttle asks to what extent children and young people in NI are currently educated together.

    He notes that Alison Chambers said the vision for the Department of Education is for children to be educated together.

    "About 60% of our schools are involved in shared education with well over 86,000 children being educated together in the shared education programmes," she replies.

    Chris Lyttle

    Mr Lyttle quotes statistics to indicate that one in five children who apply to go to an integrated school are not placed.

    He asks how the department assesses parental demand for integrated education and how it is meeting that demand.

    Departmental official Janis Scallon says the demand comes "from the ground up", from NICIE (Council for Integrated Education Northern Ireland) who bring the demand to the area planning local group.

  20. 'Significant technical difficulties with the bill'

    Alison Chambers from the Education Department leads the brief and says the minister made a statement during the second stage debate of the bill in support of the aim of children being educated together.

    “The question is, how we achieve this vision” she adds.

    While the Integrated Education Bill aims to reduce division in education, she explains, “in practice it will create more difficulties across all of education that it provides solution for”.

    Department officials
    Image caption: Alison Chambers (centre) and her department colleagues join the meeting by video link

    “There are significant technical difficulties with the bill,” says Ms Chambers

    “We have a diverse system of education here,” adds the official.

    “The bill is sector focused and could serve to impose a tiered approach to education which is not chid centred and respectful of parental preference.”