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Summary

  1. Alliance MLAs brought a motion calling for a reduction in the number of MLAs in time for the 2016 Assembly election.
  2. The Assembly debated a call for the Department of Employment to work with the community and voluntary sector to deliver the European Social Fund programme in an efficient and effective manner.
  3. First Minister Peter Robinson and Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey appeared at Question Time.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    Join us tomorrow for more live coverage of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    The scheduled debates include a Sinn Féin motion on the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons programme.

  2. Motion defeated

    The motion falls on an oral vote.

  3. 'Diversity of voices'

    Steven Agnew

    Green MLA Steven Agnew says he has no objection to reducing the number of MLAs, but says they must be careful to maintain "a diversity of voices".

    He says the prospect of a five-party government with no back-benchers from other parties as "something we should be concerned about".

    On the issue of gender balance, Mr Agnew says his party supports quotas and would like to see them implemented for Assembly elections.

  4. 'A settled matter'

    Alex Attwood

    SDLP MLA Alex Attwood says the issue of the number of MLAs was discussed as part of the Stormont House Agreement and is "a settled matter" and "should remain a settled matter".

    Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy likens the motion to "a dead parrot" and says "it should be done as part of a complete package of measures and not in the slapdash manner that has so characterised the Northern Ireland Executive".

  5. 'A retrograde step'

    Pat Sheehan

    Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin says his party agrees with the principle of reducing the number of MLAs, but disagrees with the timescale proposed.

    He fears cutting the size of the Assembly so quickly could have a negative impact on "representation and equality", as it could mean some constituencies having only unionist or nationalist members and the number of female MLAs is likely to fall - "a retrograde step for this Assembly".

    Mr Sheehan says delaying the reform until 2021 would allow parties to consider these consequences.

  6. 'Grandstanding'

    Peter Weir

    The DUP's Peter Weir says he is "somewhat bemused" by the motion,  which is "an issue largely settled at the Stormont House Agreement" and had been raised by the Secretary of State at the latest round of talks.

    "One would have felt the right place for the debate and a resolution to that would have been during the talks process", he says.

    "The cynic in me may suggest that  the Alliance Party are slightly grandstanding on an issue they may feel to be numerically to their advantage," he adds.

  7. 'Party political interest?'

    Stewart Dickson

    Stewart Dickson of Alliance introduces his party's motion calling on the Executive to reduce the number of MLAs from 108 to 90, in 2016, in parallel with an amalgamation that will see nine departments reduced to six.

    "The principle that the Assembly is too large and needs to be reduced in size has been accepted," he says, adding, rhetorically, "but implementation to be delayed, what is the reason for this?"

    "I can only presume that it is party political self-interest, rather than the sense of public good," he says, adding that Northern Ireland is "over-governed", with "far more" representatives, relative to population, than other UK regions.

  8. 'Department must learn lessons'

    Thomas Buchanan

    Resuming the debate on the European Social Fund, Thomas Buchanan, the DUP deputy chairman of the Employment Committee, winds on the motion.

    He says it should be acknowledged that the minister has worked well in tandem with the committee and when things were difficult, he "took the hard questions".

    He says officials need to "learn lessons" and put in place mechanisms in place to ensure community organisations are not "struggling for cash and for clarity on the way forward, simply because of a fault within the department".

    The motion passes on an oral vote.

  9. Royal Exchange development

    Máirtín O Muilleoir

    Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir asks about the minister's decision to terminate the development agreement for the Royal Exchange project in Belfast city centre.

    Mr Ó Muilleoir says the project had become "an albatross around the neck of Belfast".

    Mr Storey says he remains committed to transforming this run-down area and to "make sure we deliver the best scheme possible".

    He agrees with Mr Ó Muilleoir that this may not mean a retail-led development is the best way forward.

    "It has to be a mix," he says.

  10. Syrian refugees

    Syrian refugees

    Trevor Lunn of Alliance asks the minister for an update on the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme for Syrian refugees. 

    He asks whether there have been any discussions regarding "potential community relations problems that could arise".

    Mr Storey says he has been "disgusted by some comments that I have seen recently, particularly on social media", and that the refugees find themselves in a situation that "none of us can appreciate or comprehend".

  11. Paisley makes donation in libel settlement

    Ian Paisley

    DUP MP Ian Paisley is to make a charitable donation as part of a libel settlement, after he was sued by a Sinn Féin MEP over comments he made on radio.

    Martina Anderson brought defamation proceedings against Mr Paisley over an interview he gave about the closure of a County Antrim cigarette factory.

    The case was due to be heard in the High Court in Belfast, but the judge was told the dispute has been settled.

    Mr Paisley will donate to the Pink Ladies cancer charity in Londonderry.

  12. Social Development questions

    Mervyn Storey

    Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey is answering MLAs' questions.

  13. Standing ovation

    Ovation for Peter Robinson

    At the end of Question Time there is a standing ovation for Mr Robinson, led by his colleagues on the DUP benches and joined by members of some of the other parties.

  14. Organ donation

    Jo-Anne Dobson

    Ulster Unionist Jo Anne Dobson  asks Mr Robinson if he still supports a "soft opt-out" scheme for human organ donations.

    Mrs Dobson currently has a private member's bill progressing through the Assembly on this matter.

    The first minister says Mrs Dobson is aware of his wish "to drive up the number of people willing to donate organs".

    However, he says, "there is a letter from clinicians, and I am very much aware there are dangers when politicians try and tell the medical professionals what is best in their area".

  15. 'Dead and listening to the obituaries'

    In reply to a further fulsome tribute from DUP party colleague, Paul Givan, the first minister say "it's almost as if one was dead and listening to the obituaries".

    Mr Givan asks about criticisms of the Fresh Start agreement made by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt.

    Mr Robinson says the financial package is "approximately £560m".

    He says "not a penny" of the money is borrowed

  16. First minister's 'selfless service'

    Brenda Hale

    The DUP's Brenda Hale pays a glowing tribute to Mr Robinson "on what is likely to be his last question time".

    She praises the first minister for "his years of selfless service to the people of Northern Ireland".

  17. National security

    Bronwyn McGahan

    Referring to the absence of a section on dealing with the past in the Fresh Start agreement, Sinn Féin's Bronwyn McGahan asks the new Junior Minister Emma Pengelly about the use of national security as a "blanket term".

    She calls for the "full disclosure of truth that victims and families deserve".

    Mrs Pengelly says that "in all these issues there is a matter of  compromise to be had ".

    She says that "the techniques employed" to deter terrorist attacks need to be protected.

  18. First Minister's questions

    Peter Robinson

    First Minister Peter Robinson is answering questions from MLAs

    Last week, Mr Robinson announced his decisions to quit as  first minister and leader of the DUP.

  19. 'No change in standards'

    Mr Farry says his department has not "changed the goalposts" in terms of setting guidance for funding applications.

    He spoke of the importance of "clear, objective standards" in dealing with organisations", adding, "frankly if we start to change things mid-stream we do open ourselves up to a Pandora's Box in terms of people coming in with all sorts of claims and allegations against the department".

  20. 'ESF not a financial vehicle for community sector'

    Stephen Farry

    Employment Minister Stephen Farry responds to the debate.

    He describes the European Social Fund (ESF) as "a positive reflection on our membership of the European Union" and "allows us to do things we may otherwise not be able to achieve".

    He notes that the fund is not "a financial vehicle specifically designed to sustain the community and voluntary sector" and "there was an unrealistic expectation among certain providers that funding would continue into the new programme by virtue of the fact they were funded under the previous programme".

    Mr Farry says he is aware of the challenges faced by the sector "but no single organisation has an automatic right to funding"

  21. 'Great difficulty'

    Alban Maginness

    Alban Maginness of the SDLP criticises the way in which funding applications are handled.

    He says organisations have experienced "great difficulty in navigating the process".

    Anna Lo, an Alliance colleague of Employment Minister Stephen Farry, says she believes the department has learned from past mistakes and will "deliver effective funding".

  22. 'A disgrace'

    Sydney Anderson

    Democratic Unionist Sydney Anderson says well-respected voluntary and community groups "were left high and dry".

    He says "the department's handling of the claims has been a disgrace".

    Bronwyn McGahan of Sinn Féin pays tribute to the work of women's centres in helping women to achieve qualifications and jobs.

    She says that community and voluntary organisations have been reduced to borrowing from banks due to delays in departmental funding.

  23. 'Catastrophic'

    Mr Swann says there has been confusion over the closure of the 2007-13 social fund programme and the opening of the 2014-20 programme.

    He says the difficulties faced by voluntary and community organisations have been "described as problematic, and at worse described as catastrophic".

  24. European Social Fund

    Robin Swann

    Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who chairs the Employment and Learning Committee introduces its motion on the European Social Fund.

    The motion calls on on the Employment Department to improve its cooperation with community and voluntary groups to "deliver, efficiently and effectively, the European Social Fund".

  25. 'Credibility problem?'

    Jim Allister
    Image caption: Jim Allister

    Anna Lo of Alliance asks how the minister would ensure arts groups had funding "not just to survive, but thrive".

    Ms Ní Chuilín replies that other departments "have a role in the delivery and sustainability in the future of the arts in this country" and she believe this consultation provides us with the opportunity for "better outcomes".

    Jim Allister of the TUV says the statement contains "many nice words," but asks if the minister has a "credibility problem" given "her reputation as a serial protester in her constituency at manifestations of Orange culture".

    The minister says "as the member will know from his legal training, a person's right to protest is a fundamental right and I support my right to protest and anyone else's right to protest all day long".

  26. 'No diluting or dumbing down'

    Karen McKevitt

    The SDLP's Karen McKevitt asks the minister why a advisory forum made up of representatives of arts groups has yet to meet.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says the forum was established in January 2014 and she will provide details of how often and when it has met. 

    She adds she has not previously been asked about the frequency of meetings.

    Leslie Cree of the UUP asks about the importance of balancing access to, and quality of, arts events.

    The minister says she wants to assure people that a focus on giving hard-to-reach communities access to arts would not "dilute or dumb down the quality of the arts", which she says is a view held by "a small number of people".

  27. 'Far behind schedule'

    Nelson McCausland

    Culture Committee chairman Nelson McCausland says he is struck by "how far we are behind timescale".

    He notes that if the consultation period, which has been reduced from 20 weeks to 12, ends in February, it will take a further four weeks for the minister to consider responses, "taking us through almost to the election" which means "any actions around this are almost impossible".

  28. NI welfare reform: House of Commons due to push legislation through

    The Fresh Start documant
    Image caption: The Stormont agreement included plans to allow Westminster to implement reforms in Northern Ireland

    Welfare reform legislation for Northern Ireland agreed in last week's political deal at Stormont is due to be pushed through the House of Commons later.

    The bill is then expected to be put before the House of Lords on Tuesday.

    The Assembly voted in favour of a motion on Wednesday to allow MPs to implement changes to the welfare system in Northern Ireland.

  29. Culture and Arts Strategy

    Carál Ní Chuilín

    Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín delivers a statement on the launch of a consultation on the development of a Culture and Arts Strategy.

    "Arts and culture deserve to be enjoyed, supported, funded and accessible equally, by all" she says.

  30. Good morning!

    The Great Hall, Stormont
    Image caption: The Great Hall, Stormont

    Welcome to today's live coverage of the Stormont Assembly.

    Business starts at 12:00 GMT.