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Summary

  1. This afternoon, MLAs debated the consideration stage of independent MLA John McCallister's bill that would allow the formation of an official Assembly opposition.
  2. The Assembly also debated the bills to reduce the number of MLAs from 108 to 90, and number of executive departments from 12 to nine.
  3. The social development and agriculture ministers appeared at Question Time.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

  1. The Assembly adjourns

    The voting has to stop at clause 12 as a valid petition of concern has been lodged objecting to clauses 13 and 21, and schedule one.  

    The remaining part of the bill is to be debated next Monday.

    The speaker adjourns the assembly.

    Join us tomorrow morning at 10:00 GMT for live coverage of the Employment Committee.

  2. Voting on the amendments

    The voting on the first grouping of voting begins.

    A Sinn Féin proposal to reject clause one of the bill is defeated by 61 votes to 24.

    Votes on a number of amendments follow.

  3. Fresh Start

    Raymond McCartney

    Raymond McCartney of Sinn Féin says his party's view of the bill is based on the provision for an opposition contained in the Fresh Start agreement.

    He says this allows for "an official opposition to be put in place by administrative means not requiring primary legislation because that was an excepted matter".

  4. 'A viable opposition'

    Mr McCallister gives one example of how he sees opposition working.

    "Think how different it might have looked in the autumn when we were in crisis had there been a viable opposition challenging the lead parties, the government," he says.

  5. The sponsor defends his bill

    John McCallister

    Independent John McCallister replies to the debate so far on his private member's bill.

    He rejects claims that there is a danger of "majoritarianism" if the legislation proceeds.

    The South Down MLA says there is "no way" that the bill can "damage how we address those historic divisions".

    Mr McCallister refers to the guarantees represented by the use of proportional representation in elections, and the d'Hondt system for appointing ministers.

  6. OECD apologise for error

    OECD report

    The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has apologised for publishing the wrong information about the reading, writing and maths skills of Northern Ireland university students.

    A major OECD report, published on the 28 January, ranked NI students 22nd out of 23 countries in literacy and 21st out of 23 in numeracy.

    However, the OECD now say that they initially published the wrong data, and NI students are "in reality closer to mid-table of the surveyed countries".

  7. 'An opportunity wasted'

    Steven Agnew

    Green Party leader Steven Agnew says "our priority should be good governance".

    "To simply dismiss altogether, to oppose all its clauses I think would be an opportunity wasted," he adds.

  8. 'Deluding and concealing'

    Mr Allister says the DUP were "deluding themselves" and "trying to conceal from the public" the fact that the Office of First and Deputy First Minister was a joint office, "joined at the hip".

    He says the current governance model is "held in increasing disdain by the public" and will continue to be so "as long as the structures remain as they are.

  9. 'Reeking insincerity'

    Jim Allister

    The TUV leader Jim Allister says he finds it "amazing" that they are still "talking and dithering over whether this democratic institution should have an opposition".

    He talks of "supercilious compliments" and "reeking insincerity" from some members praising Mr McCallister for his bill "when they intend to kill it" and says it is "self-evidently an indictment on this house" that the debate needs to take place.

  10. 'A worthwhile attempt'

    Trevor Lunn of Alliance says the bill is a "worthwhile attempt to modernise the procedures and structures of this Assembly".

    He says of the argument that the Fresh Start agreement had negated the need for the bill, "you would have to have more faith in Fresh Start than I do, at the moment".

  11. 'No-one wants one-party rule'

    Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy says the opposition and number of amendments to the bill suggests it is nearly impossible for a private member's bill to make it onto the statute books without the sponsorship of Sinn Féin or the DUP.

    "I see no-one in this house who wants to go back to the period of majority rule" says Mr Kennedy "and therefore the concerns about community designation are something of a misnomer and almost and invention".

    He suggests Westminster legislation may be necessary to introduce an opposition.

  12. Teachers' unions reject pay offer

    School

     Northern Ireland's largest teaching union has said it rejects the latest pay offer for its members.

    Teachers have been offered a rise of just over 1%, according to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. 

  13. 'Bill will not deal with fundamental problems'

    Alex Attwood

    The SDLP's Alex Attwood says it is a "failure of government" that has led to "public disillusionment" with politics.

    He says the "fundamental" problems facing the power-sharing institutions will not be addressed by an opposition bill,  reducing the number of MLAs or departments or tackling misuse of the petition of concern mechanism, but "in the hearts and minds of parties people and politicians".

  14. Agree with basic principles

    Paula Bradley

    DUP MLA Paula Bradley says the Executive Review Committee that undertook the consideration stage of the bill agreed with the basic principles behind it, but did not agree with some of the elements relating to smaller parties, such as enhanced speaking rights.

  15. 'Majoritarianism'

    Caitríona Ruane, of Sinn Féin, speaks in opposition to the bill.

    She says she believes Mr McCallister brought his bill "with good will" and that her party supports much of what he wishes to achieve, including the introduction of an official opposition, but adds, "we don't believe legislation is necessary to do so".

    Ms Ruane says the bill risks "majoritarianism" and quotes Prof Coakley of Queen's university Belfast: "the results risk being some kind of Frankenstein's monster, with key principals in the majoritarian model grafted onto a body that is essentially consensus-based".

  16. Assembly Opposition Bill

    Mitchel McLaughlin

    Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin announces that a valid petition of concern has been lodged against elements of the bill.

    As a result, MLAs will not vote on a number of clauses until a date appointed by the Business Committee.

    Asked by im Allister of the TUV whether there would be a 24-hour delay before a vote, the Speaker says it was usual that the debate would continue the following day, even if that meant a break of less than 24 hours.

  17. TTIP

    Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir invites the minister to comment on  TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

    Mrs O'Neill says she is concerned that the TTIP negotiations have been carried on "in a secret nature".

    She says the outcome is likely to be in favour of US farmers - particularly in the beef sector.

  18. Withdrawal from the EU

    UK/EU flag

    Trevor Lunn of Alliance asks about contingency plans in the event of a UK vote for withdrawal from the EU.

    The minister says that "a vote for BREXIT would be disastrous for agriculture and rural development".

    She says that it would take up to two years for the terms of withdrawal to be negotiated,.

    This time would also be used by the executive to negotiate with the British government the replacement of "existing EU rules and financial suipport systems," Mrs O'Neill says. 

     "I believe the Treasury would be unsympathetic" to calls for some of the money saved by withdrawal to be used to support farmers and rural communities, she adds. 

  19. 'I am not apologetic'

    pork

    Ulster Unionist Adrian Cochrane-Watson asks about "the administrative burden on farmers and agri-food businesses".

    He says the total Agriculture Department bill for administration "is now over £45m".

    Mrs O'Neill says that if Mr Cochrane -Watson is asking her if she is "apologetic for putting more resources into services that help us deliver farmers' payments - I am not apologetic for that".