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  1. Alliance Party motion raising concerns over 'openness and transparency' of executive is defeated
  2. Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard and Justice Minister Claire Sugden appear at Question Time
  3. Agriculture minister gives statements on cross-border co-operation on environmental issues
  4. DUP's Keith Buchanan makes maiden speech in adjournment debate on roads in Mid-Ulster

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

That's all for today

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

And in the afternoon, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is appearing before MLAs to answer questions about the committee's inquiry into the sale of Nama assets and the allegations of "coaching" that led to the resignation of former Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay.

Challenge mounted to work on £160m roads project

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard replies to the debate, reiterating his determination to address the imbalance of transport links in the west.

He talks about forthcoming projects on two sections of the A6, from Londonderry to Dungiven, and Randalstown to Castledawson.

Chris Hazzard

Mr Hazzard says work on the £160m Randalstown to Castledawson project had been pencilled in to begin later this month, but an application for judicial review has been lodged with the courts.

The minister says he is disappointed but it is not unusual for such challenges to be raised to major projects.

'Let's not bung problem into Moneymore'

Patsy McGlone of the SDLP says he is looking forward to seeing the minister coming to the committee to open to the Magherafelt bypass.

Patsy McGlone

However, he is concerned that "in alleviating one problem, another problem isn't bunged into Moneymore".

'Driving on roads like sailing on rough, stormy sea'

Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend says the constituency is "a hub of the engineering and manufacturing incustry in Northern Ireland".

She welcomes the completion of the Magherafelt Bypass, which is due to be opened on Thursday.

A car drives past a pothole

Iain Milne of Sinn Féin complains about the poor state of roads in the constituency.

He says that driving along the Five Mile Straight near Maghera is like being "in a small boat on a rough, stormy sea".

DUP's Buchanan makes maiden speech on Mid Ulster roads

Keith Buchanan of the DUP introduces his adjournment debate on roads infrastructure in Mid Ulster.

This is his maiden speech and Principal Deputy Speaker Caitríona Ruane asks members to pay him due respect.

Keith Buchanan

Mr Buchanan says he receives complaints about "defects, grass-cutting and general roads maintenance" every week.

He notes that of the 77 roads fatalities in Northern Ireland in 2015, 57% happened on rural roads.

'Ministers' absence insults house and speaker'

Mr Ford points out to the speaker that there was no ministerial response to the debate, adding: "It seems to me that that is an insult to the house."

Robin Newton

He asks whether any action could be taken against ministers who are absent in such cases, saying it is something that "would not be tolerated" in any other UK legislature.

Speaker Robin Newton (above) says he cannot compel ministers to appear but will review the Alliance Party leader's request.

'Missing' ministers enter chamber for votes

No ministers were present for virtually the entirety of the debate, as Mr Ford pointed out, but most of them enter the chamber for the votes on the amendments and the motion itself.

The first amendment - calling for an executive standards commissioner - falls.

A total of 93 members voted, with 35 in favour and 58 against.

MLAs inside the assembly chamber

The second amendment, which sought the first and deputy first minister to acknowledge the concerns and outline how they would ensure the assembly mandate is respected in future, is also defeated.

Again, 93 MLAs voted, with 35 voting aye and 58 voting no.

The motion itself was defeated by 58 votes to 34.

'Complete refusal to engage by DUP and Sinn Féin'

Alliance Party leader David Ford says there was a "complete refusal to engage" in the debate by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

David Ford

Winding for the motion, he says the lack of an executive minister in the chamber until the final two minutes of the debate is an "example of the contempt with which the executive is treating not the opposition but the people of Northern Ireland and the institutions".

He said that proved the point his party, the SDLP and the UUP were making about the "lack of openness, the lack of transparency and the change fundamentally to close matters down since the election in May".

'DUP has resisted accountability for decades'

Alex Attwood winds for the amendment calling for a standards commissioner to investigate alleged breaches of the ministerial code.

He says it is "in the DNA" of the DUP to "resist accountability because they've done it for decades".

Alex Attwood

But he adds that "is allegedly not in the DNA of Sinn Féin, yet today they will vote down a quite moderate measure that would see accountability in respect of the ministerial code".

The "message" today from the DUP and Sinn Féin, he says, is: "We won, so we do."

'Kingdom of Marlene a dark and secret place'

TUV leader Jim Allister rises...

"Ah, the Kingdom of Marlene - what a dark and secret place, where boundless energy is expended on keeping secret their hidden things of darkness."

"No better example", he says, is the appointment of David Gordon as the executive's press secretary, saying that "the mischief" of that was the way in which the law was changed "Henry VIII-style" to facilitate the creation of the role.

David Gordon (centre)
David Gordon (centre) was appointed executive press secretary last month

Mr Allister says the late DUP leader and former first minister Ian Paisley, "agitated by the lawful use of freedom of information legislation", said those laws were "being abused lazy journalists", one of them being Mr Gordon.

"The irony now is that the bête noire is now the spin doctor of this executive."

'Faux laughter not what politics is about'

Returning to the debate on the Alliance Party's motion on concerns over openness and transparency from the executive, Emma Pengelly takes to the floor.

Emma Pengelly

She criticises MLAs from the non-executive parties who contributed to the debate earlier, saying she does not think "trying to scoff and faux laughter" is "what politics should be about".

"All members should be respectful and this morning's debate was a disgrace," she adds.

'We need to reform health system'

Waiting times for appointments "aren't acceptable, aren't tolerable and can't continue", Ms O'Neill tells the assembly, adding that the health system needs reform.

Masked and gowned doctor

"One of the main reasons that they continue to grow is that we have an outdated system that is trying to deliver 21st century health and social care," she says.

"We need to reform the system so we can have better outcomes."

'Don't take knee-jerk reaction to figures'

Health Committee chair Paula Bradley asks if there is any way of trusts sharing services to deal with the long waiting lists.

Mrs O'Neill says there "should be no competition between trusts", adding that they are now better at working together in partnership.

Michelle O'Neill

She outlines the latest figures her department has, saying that many of the trusts are hitting or are close to hitting their targets for 14-day referrals, and the Southern Trust has shown an improvement in the past week.

She tells MLAs: "It's important that no member of this assembly knee-jerks to the media reaction."

'Pressure has increased on cancer services'

Matters move to an urgent oral question from Mark H Durkan on what he describes as "awful" breast cancer waiting times.

It comes after it emerged that some women in the Southern Trust area are having to wait up to 35 weeks for a routine breast referral.

Others who are referred urgently may have to wait up to three weeks. The recommended target for an urgent referral is 14 days.  

Woman in hospital gown

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill says she regrets the delays and assures MLAs that those who have been referred are being seen as soon as possible.

An ageing population and an increase in referrals "inevitably create a pressure on our health services", Ms O'Neill says, and there is a need to have a "sustainable breast service in place" in the long-term future.

She adds that in spite of "all the challenges we have" the five-year survival rate for breast cancer "is better here than in England, Scotland and Wales".

'Prisoners at Maghaberry did not run riot'

Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend asks about a recent incident at Maghaberry Prison when, she says, "100 prisoners were accidentally released on to the landings".

Mrs Overend says the incident put three prison officers at great risk.

Maghaberry Prison

The minister says she "understands the prisoners did not run riot".

She adds that there was a "rolling" technical fault and that at most 13 prisoners were out of their cells at any time.

'Extension of Pitchford inquiry something I'm pursuing'

Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstong asks the minister if she will continue to pursue the extension of the Pitchford Inquiry to Northern Ireland.

The inquiry is investigating allegations of misconduct by undercover officers in England and Wales.

Some are accused of miscarriages of justice and having sex with women who did not know they were police officers.

Members of the undercover units also worked in Northern Ireland without the knowledge of local police.

Ms Sugden says she has "written to the home secretary again to ask her to reconsider, to see if she would extend the terms of reference to Northern Ireland".

She says the matter is "something that I am keen to keep pursuing".

The revolving sign at New Scotland Yard

'Need for better support for prison officers'

The SDLP's Sinead Bradley asks the minister about the Prison Ombudsman's report on Sean Lynch, an inmate at Maghaberry Prison who inflicted extreme self-harm over a period of three days.

She wants to know when the recommendations made in the report will be implemented.

Sean Lynch with his father
Derry Journal

Ms Sugden says she has accepted the findings of the report.

She adds she has spoken to prison service management "to see how we can better support prison officers when there are prisoners who present themselves with really exceptional circumstances such as Mr Lynch had".

'Sixty prison staff retired on medical grounds'

Ulster Unionist Ross Hussey asks how many prison officers have been retired on medical grounds in 2015-16.

Ross Hussey

The ministers says 60 members of operational staff were retired on this basis.

Question Time for justice minister

Claire Sugden

Claire Sugden is answering questions on her brief at the Department of Justice.

Will faster tractors mean fewer tailbacks?

Gordon Lyons of the DUP asks the minister if he has "any plans to increase speed limits for tractors".

Mr Hazzard tells him that the speed limit for tractors has recently been raised from 20mph to 24.8mph.

"I currently have no plans to increase construction road speeds," he adds.

Tractors at Stormont

Barry McElduff of Sinn Féin is concerned about long queues of traffic that can form behind tractors as they trundle along main roads.

Are there any laws restricting the number of cars in a tailback - "eight, nine, or is it 10?" - before tractors are obliged to pull over, he asks.

The minister says farmers are good members of the rural community and "don't want to be the cause of tailbacks".

'Better infrastructure in west is top priority'

The SDLP's Sinead Bradley asks the minister about his priority infrastructure plans, and Mr Hazzard says his top of his list is improving transport links in the west of Northern Ireland.

Road signs

He adds that he believes it is "critical to address this historic imbalance".

Ms Bradley asks about cross-border projects, and the minister confirms his determination to press ahead with the Narrow Water Bridge and the restoration of the Ulster Canal.

'Bangor-to-Belfast road improvements depend on funding'

The DUP's Gordon Dunne asks about plans to upgrade the A2 Bangor to Belfast road.

The minister says the road carries about 45,000 vehicles per day and there long-term plans to improve the junctions but these depend on funds being available.

Cars driving along the A2 road

Mr Hazzard says there are plans to widen the Sydenham bypass leading into Belfast from a two-lane to a three-lane dual carriageway are dependent on the availability of finance.

But he hints that it is unlikely given that the upgrade would cost in the region of £40m to £50m.

Question Time for infrastructure minister

Chris Hazzard

Chris Hazzard finds himself in the spotlight now as he answers questions from MLAs on the floor of the house on his infrastructure brief.

That's lunchtime...

The assembly is halted for lunch, and the debate will continue after Question Time with the infrastructure and justice ministers, which is coming up at 14:00.

'Allister a wannabe leader of unionism'

DUP MLA Edwin Poots attacks both Jim Allister and Mike Nesbitt in his contribution.

Edwin Poots

The TUV leader, he says, is a "wannabe leader of unionism" and his Ulster Unionist counterpart is a "failed political leader".

"Actually, having Mr Nesbitt as a leader of the opposition is somewhat worrying for those of us who would like to see an effective opposition in this house."

'Absence of openness breeds sense of corruption'

Stormont is in danger of breeding "a sense of dishonesty and corruption" as a result of the executive's "failure to deliver" openness and transparency, Robin Swann says.

Robin Swann

He says he has "some sympathy" with the DUP and Sinn Féin members speaking in the debate because it is "obvious that they are the lobby fodder of their parties".

"Their ministers failed to show to be accountable to this motion," he notes.

'Poor quality opposition has nothing to offer'

Gordon Lyons of the DUP says he defends the right of the Alliance Party to bring the motion to the chamber, but he does not think the item is "high in the public concern".

He says much of the scrutinising of the executive must happen within the committee system.

"This is about the poor quality of opposition," he says. "They have nothing of any substance to bring."

"Do not expect other people to do your job for you," he tells the opposition parties.

'Opposition parties not up the the job'

Debating the executive's openness will "not put one loaf of bread on anyone's table", the DUP's Christopher Stalford says, insisting that matters such as health and education should be on the agenda instead.

Christopher Stalford

He attacks the opposition, saying the UUP and SDLP are "not up to the job" of properly scrutinising the executive.

But UUP MLA Robin Swann says what the opposition wants is "ministers to answer us, ministers to appear in this chamber" rather than "hiding away at champagne receptions".

'NI has bright future outside EU'

Speaking ahead of his speech to the Conservative Party conference, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire says the region has a bright future within the UK but outside of the EU.

James Brokenshire
Press Eye

"That is the approach that I'm taking as secretary of state in putting the case very clearly within Whitehall, but also underlining that across Northern Ireland too," he adds.

'Ministers' absence a tactical obstruction'

The SDLP's Colin McGrath accuses the DUP and Sinn Féin of "autocratic leadership rather than joint leadership".

He says he fears that the public might perceive the absence of ministers from the Executive Office to be a "tactical and willful obstruction of this house and its processes".

He supports the motion and its amendments.

Dissenting parties were rejected by electorate'

Alex Maskey of Sinn Féin also opposes the motion.

"Whether people like it or not, Sinn Féin and the DUP have been returned as the two largest parties," he says.

Alex Maskey

"The two parties who are making the largest noise about 'disfunctionality' are the two parties who were rejected as the government parties."

He accuses the UUP and SDLP of leaking information from the executive when they were in office.

'Accusations at odds with my party's record'

DUP MLA William Irwin rises with a defence of the executive.

But his claim that "accusations of a lack of openness and transparency stand at odds with the record of my party" in government.

This prompts laughter in the chamber.

Members of the Northern Ireland Executive
The current Northern Ireland Executive was formed in May 2016

Mr Irwin says the opposition has failed to bring any meaningful business to the chamber since its formation in the summer, and that  they "face a great dilemma".

"I fear they will slip into the trap of opposition for opposition's sake."

'McGuinness claiming king's power is perverse'

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt (below) says Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the "self-styled proud-and-principled republican", has "conferred upon himself the powers of a monarch to change the laws" on three occasions to make appointments.

One of those was that of Mr Gordon as the executive's press secretary, but are other two an as yet unknown, Mr Nesbitt adds.

Mike Nesbitt

"For a republican to give himself the power of a king is nothing short of perverse", he adds.

He says the "shutters seem to have come down more firmly than ever" on government in Northern Ireland, and proposes an amendment to the motion calling on the first and deputy first ministers to outline how the assembly's mandate will be respected by the executive.

'Public suspicious of executive's conduct'

It is the "height of arrogance and disrespect" that the Executive Office, "with its four ministers, could not send one to respond to this debate", Green Party leader Steven Agnew says.

Steven Agnew

He is proposing an amendment to the motion, calling for the creation of a standards commissioner for the executive to investigate alleged breaches of the ministerial code.

"Accountability requires transparency", he says, adding that there were several examples in the summer of matters of public interest that would not have been known had it not been for the work of investigative journalists.

'Numerous breaches of good governance standards'

"Unnecessary secrecy, control-freakery and cronyism..."

Those are just three of the things the Northern Ireland Executive is accused of by the Alliance Party as part of its motion over concerns over openness and transparency in the region's governance.

Dr Stephen Farry raises the "persistent trend of DUP and Sinn Féin MLAs on assembly scrutiny committees being reluctant to scrutinise their own ministers", pointing particularly to the Executive Office Committee.

Stephen Farry

He also refers to the appointment of the executive's press secretary David Gordon, which was facilitated by a change to the law by the first and deputy first ministers, and the non-publication of the executive’s pre-EU referendum report into the potential consequences of Brexit.

Making major financial decisions without proper business cases is another point he makes, referring particularly to moving the Agriculture Department headquarters to Ballykelly in County Londonderry.

'Designation rule indictment of the assembly'

Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party says his party has concerns about "how exactly MLAs will be held to account" on the pledge to non-violence.

Chris Lyttle

He also condemns the continuing rule that members must declare themselves to be nationalist, unionist, or other.

The East Belfast MLA says the use of designations is "an indictment of the assembly".

All four of the motions passed on oral votes.

'Agreement ignored elephant in the room'

Ulster Unionist Rosemary Barton expresses her party's concern about the measures regarding member undertakings.

She says the Stormont House Agreement ignored "the elephant in the room - the IRA still existed, it still had access to weapons".

Rosemary Barton

She says the DUP still does not want to talk about this.

Fra McCann of Sinn Féin welcomes the proposed changes to standing orders, as does Colin McGrath of the SDLP.

Hybrid bills

Mr Lyons briefly explains the other motions, with the second referring to the publication of papers deposited in the assembly library.

The other motions make provision for hybrid bills, which have the attributes of both a public and a private member's bill.

'Upholding the rule of law'

The DUP's Gordon Lyons, who chairs the assembly's Procedures Committee, introduces four motions to change standing orders.

Gordon Lyons

He explains that the first motion regards the undertaking made by members on taking their seats after their election to the assembly.

He explains that this arises from the Stormont House Agreement which binds members "to uphold the rule of law and non-violence".

'River pollution incidents rising this year'

The number of pollution offences in Northern Ireland's rivers and loughs has risen significantly this year, the minister says.

She reveals that in response to a question from the DUP's Maurice Bradley, who says the fishing industry is "very important to the economy".

There has already been 150 incidents of pollution this year, compared with 100 in 2015, the minister says.

Dead fish in the River Faughan
Lucan Newland

She refers to one major fish kill in the River Faughan in August, in which a silage spill was suspected to have been the cause.

"Reducing pollution is one of my ministerial priorities," Miss McIlveen says, adding that farmers' unions north and south of the border have been asked to raise awareness of the matter with their members.