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Summary

  1. Economy Minister Simon Hamilton takes committee questions on issues facing his department
  2. Queen's University's professor discusses UK's exit from EU with Executive Office Committee
  3. Executive Office Committee debates scrutinising appointment of new press secretary
  4. Open University gives evidence to Economy Committee on department's education strategy

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

  1. The committee adjourns... and that's all from us

    Mike Nesbitt draws the meeting to a close.

    Join us tomorrow morning at 10:30 for live coverage of the Health Committee and a briefing with health standards body the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

  2. 'We could look like rollovers and chihuahuas'

    The members agree that Mr Nesbitt should bring a draft copy of a letter for the Executive Office inquiring about Mr Gordon's appointment to next week's meeting.

    Chihuahuas

    The chairperson warns members that this matter could come back to haunt them, and that there "is a danger" that not scrutinising the appointment will "make us look like rollovers, chihuahuas and irrelevant".

  3. Raised voices over Gordon role scrutiny

    Voices are raised as Christopher Stalford disagrees with Mike Nesbitt on whether discussion within the committee on this matter should be "party political".

    Mike Nesbitt

    Mr Stalford says the notion that opinions expressed within the chamber and  "recorded in Hansard" should not be reflected in the committee.

    He says it is "ridiculous".

  4. Press secretary's appointment 'legal, above board'

    The committee turns to the matter of the appointment of David Gordon as press secretary for the executive.

    Chairperson Mike Nesbitt asks the members if they "need to take a view" on whether they understand the role of the new appointment, and on the appointment process.

    David Gordon

    Seán Lynch of Sinn Féin says the appointment was "legal and above board" and there is no need to take a view.

    Christopher Stalford of the DUP agrees, says the appointment was "legally sound and competent".

  5. 'We've heard doom and gloom'

    After Prof Phinnemore's briefing, the members discuss the need to find alternative voices on Brexit.

    Christoher Stalford

    The DUP's Christoher Stalford says he attended a meeting during the EU referendum campaign and "the professor was a speaker for 'Remain'".

    Mr Stalford says they have heard a lot of "doom and gloom".

  6. 'EU is a tough negotiator'

    Looking ahead to the Brexit negotiations, Prof Phinnemore says "the EU is a tough negotiator".

    He says that American does not have free trade with the EU and "the Canadians are struggling to get there".

    Ships at a dock

    He reminds members that in some EU countries there would have to be a referendum to approve any new relationship with the UK.

    "We could be in a position where the UK leaves, seeks an arrangement with the EU and that agreement does not come into force," the professor says.

  7. 'Controls possible on movement of agri produce'

    Even if the UK remains part of the single market "there would still be controls on the amount of agricultural produce moving across that international border", Prof Phinnemore says.

    Hens

    He adds that debate in London is turning "simply towards having some sort of free trade agreement with the EU" and that this will have serious implications for the Irish border.

  8. 'Reverse Greenland option could create hard border'

    In reply to a question from Seán Lynch of Sinn Féin, the professor explains the so-called "reverse Greenland" arrangement.

    Prof David Phinnemore

    This would see the United Kingdom would remain part of the EU, but England and Wales, would withdraw from the EU.

    Prof Phinnemore says a potential problem is that this could require a "hard border" between England and Scotland.

  9. 'EU wary of uncoupling four freedoms'

    The professor that the European Union is wary of setting unwanted precedents. in "uncoupling the four freedoms".

    These are "the free movement of goods, services, capital and people".

    A passport check at an airport

    The professor gives Switzerland as an example.

    "The EU has been very hard on the Swiss on the free movement of workers, partly because it does not want to set a precedent."

  10. 'Challenging period ahead for us'

    Prof Phinnemore says his paper is designed to stimulate debate, rather than to make specific recommendations.

    "We have a very challenging period ahead of us," he says.

    Vehicles cross a road over the Irish border

    The professor says there is a need to "reconceptualise" the border with the Republic of Ireland.

    The border "will on Brexit become the international border of the European Union and the United Kingdom on this Ireland".

  11. 'Brexit means Brexit a rather vacuous comment'

    Prof David Phinnemore arrives to brief the Executive Office Committee on Brexit matters.

    The professor of European politics at Queen's University, he is the author of a paper entitled After the EU referendum: Establishing the best outcome for Northern Ireland.

    Union jacks fly above an exit sign

    He says the referendum result has brought "considerable uncertainty".

    The professor describes the oft-used phrase "Brexit means Brexit" as "a rather vacuous comment".

  12. Time for lunch...

    Conor Murphy adjourns the committee after what was a lengthy session, and with that it is lunchtime.

    Join us at 14:00 for coverage of the Executive Office Committee, which will be discussing Brexit.

  13. 'Level of university funding must be maintained'

    Mr D'Arcy says the Open University is working in a very "high-powered" way within the Northern Ireland economy.

    He adds that the university, which has about 3,600 students in Northern Ireland, has five priorities for the current assembly mandate.

    Open University logo

    Mr D'Arcy tells the committee it is important that "at least the current level of funding" for universities is maintained to make part-time higher education "as accessible to as many adult learners as possible.

    And he says the economy would be "really energised" if students who already have a degree to receive part-time tuition fee loans if they want to reskill in STEM subjects.

  14. Open University reps before committee

    Universities are on the agenda now, with MLAs discussing the Economy Department's strategic overview on higher and further educations sectors with representatives of the Open University.

    John D'Arcy

    John D'Arcy, the university's national director, and its strategy and innovation manager, Michael Bower, are appearing before the committee.

  15. Noonan agrees to answer questions over Nama

    Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan has agreed to attend the Irish parliament's Public Accounts Committee to answer questions about the National Asset Management Agency's (Nama) controversial Project Eagle sale of property in Northern Ireland. 

    Michael Noonan

    The committee's invitation to Mr Noonan was made following the Comptroller and Auditor General's report into the £1.2bn sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan portfolio.

  16. Tourism Ireland 'could give us more'

    The value for money that Northern Ireland is getting from Tourism Ireland "could be better", Mr Hamilton claims.

    The Giant's Causeway

    "I want to try to work with them to ensure Northern Ireland is getting more of its share of its output and marketing," he says of the island's tourism marketing agency.

    "There is a real interest in Northern Ireland as a place to visit."

  17. Regional economy balance 'difficult to achieve'

    Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey asks the minister about measures in place to address an regional imbalance between the east and the west of Northern Ireland's economy.

    Mr Hamilton says it is "difficult and hard to achieve", because, especially in terms of inward investment, "we can show and encourage but we can't dictate to firms where they will go".

    Alex Maskey
    Image caption: Alex Maskey

    But Invest Northern Ireland, the region's economic development agency, is working with firms already based in areas outside Belfast, for example, to create new jobs.

    "[Those jobs] will largely be much more secure and embedded in the local community," he says.

  18. Broadband speed: 'Providers have responsibility'

    Gordon Lyons of the DUP raises the matter of poor broadband speeds in his East Antrim constituency.

    Mr Hamilton says he has written to the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK's advertising regulator, to raise concerns that people in Northern Ireland are not receiving the speeds they are buying into.

    Website 'buffering' screen image

    Telecommunications firms like BT, which he says have been supported by investment from the executive to the tune of £64m since 2008, have to "understand their responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland".

  19. United flight 'important for tourism and business'

    Mr Hamilton defends the executive's £9m rescue package to prevent US carrier United Airlines from ending its daily service between Belfast and New York.

    He says the route is "important not just for tourism but for business", adding that the "balance" of US investors he speaks to are coming to Belfast directly from New York's Newark Airport.

    United Airlines plane

    Ulster Unionist Steve Aiken raises the matter of support for Northern Ireland's three main airports in the face of competition from Dublin Airport, and the minister says the executive needs to "think strategically.

    He adds that he is willing to work with the region's three main airports and be a "bit a more interventionist than some some would advise me to be".

  20. 'Executive has not forgotten about manufacturing'

    Referring to major losses of manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland in recent times - at Michelin, Caterpillar and other big firms - Mr Hamilton denies that the executive has "forgotten" about the industry.

    Caterpillar's Monkstown plant
    Image caption: Caterpillar is to cut around 250 jobs at its Northern Ireland plants

    He says that since 2011 almost £300m of funding has been given to manufacturing firms, which has "unlocked almost £2bn of investment in those companies", creating 13,000 new jobs.

    He says his department has been taking an "Olympic/Paralympic approach", with strategies focusing specifically on sectors within the industry where Northern Ireland firms are particularly strong, including agri-food and aerospace.