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  1. Police and local government officials give their views to Communities Committee on new alcohol licensing bill
  2. Justice Committee receives briefings from civil servants on tackling paramilitary activity

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

That's all, folks!

After a long session with a lot of technical evidence, committee chair Paul Frew thanks the members for sticking it out until the finish, and he adjourns the meeting.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont

That's all from us on Stormont Live for this week, but we'll return on Monday morning ahead of the assembly's plenary session at 12:00.

For now, though, it's goodbye from up here on the hill!

'Bids for funding will be rigorously examined'

The next topic for discussion is the arrangements on allocating funding to tackle paramilitarism, as agreed in last year's Fresh Start agreement.

Sinn Féin's Michaela Boyle says that under the Strategic Investment Fund (SIF), which was run by the Executive Office with the aim to tackle poverty and unemployment, a lot of the money "was spent on consultants".

Michaela Boyle

"By the time it actually got to the project on the ground there was very little left", she adds, and asks whether there is a danger of the same happening with the Fresh Start cash.

Mr Harbinson says he will "scrutinising every bid that comes in to make sure that certainly wasn't the case".

"It would get a very rigorous examination."

Brexit secretary wants 'effective open market' in Ireland

Mark Devenport

BBC News NI Political Editor

Brexit Secretary David Davis says he is committed to maintaining the "most effective possible open market" across Ireland after the UK leaves the EU.

David Davis
Getty Images

He was speaking in the House of Commons in response to a question from SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie.

She asked Mr Davis to "commit to exploring ways" to keep Northern Ireland in the single market.

'Bland proposals would terrify no-one'

The "blandness" of the proposals in the action plan have left the Alliance Party's Trevor Lunn "discouraged".

Trevor Lunn

"I keep looking for the one where if I was a leading paramilitary, which I'm not, would terrify me," he says.

"I see nothing in these recommendations that really hits the spot," Mr Lunn adds.

'We're not looking to fund paramilitaries'

Sammy Douglas of the DUP asks if the project "will either support organisations, or engage directly with paramilitaries".

Anthony Harbinson says that "first of all, we're not looking to fund paramilitaries".

Sammy Douglas

Instead, "it's about helping communities in transition".

He adds: "It's working with people to get through that and into a different world".

'Some areas were strangled by paramilitaries'

Chair Paul Frew says he can remember areas developing during the troubles "that were completely strangled by paramilitaries".

On the other hand, he says, there were rural areas and villages where "community groups worked tooth and nail throughout the Troubles" to ensure their areas did not fall into the hands of the paramilitary groups.

A paramilitary mural

The North Antrim MLA wants reassurance that the programme will be spread "fairly to affect all of Northern Ireland and not just the hotspots".

Mr Harbinson assures Mr Frew that it will involve both "thematic and geographic approaches".

'Excellent work going on to end paramilitarism'

Matters move on to a presentation from DoJ officials on the executive's action plan for tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime.

Anthony Harbinson says the key element of the action plan is that is "recognises the excellent work already under way in communities to complete the transition away from paramilitary activity".

Anthony Harbinson

He says the plan must therefore be designed and implemented in conjunction with effective voluntary groups in those communities.

The executive has set aside £5m to meet the action plan, of which £4m has been allocated to develop, among other things, a public awareness campaign on organised crime and a programme to support the role of women in communities.

'Effective groups should be encouraged with funding'

There will be "winners and losers" in the new system, Mr Gryzmek acknowledges.

At present, roughly about 80% of the £5m funding for the voluntary sector goes to about 20% of groups, he says, and he feels it "shouldn't always be the same people in that 20%".

An prisoner looks out of a window in a prison
Getty Images

The current funding structure "keeps everybody where they" are within those percentages, and he "would like to see a bit more movement in both directions".

He adds that the new system should see "bodies who want do good things being encouraged" by way of increased funding, which is good for "public accountability".

'Newer bodies find it difficult to get funding'

An "uneven playing field" has been created under the current funding system, Mr Grzymek says.

"Some of the newer and smaller bodies find it very difficult to get funding because they're competing with others who've already got core funding," he adds.

'Hope is for more focus on justice priorities'

Changing the model will mean voluntary groups that work with the Department of Justice (DoJ) will "realign" the services they provide with the priorities contained in the Northern Ireland's programme for government.

Gary Wardrop

"[Whether] what they're doing necessarily aligns best with our priorities is a question, and whether they're focused on how well they're doing in terms of outcomes is another question," Mr Grzymek says.

The trade union Unison told the DoJ it did not support the new system, feeling it would lead to "cutting of funding in some guise", according to departmental official Gary Wardrop (above).

'Funding model for voluntary bodies needs outcomes focus'

First up, Department of Justice officials are giving a review of the results of its consultation on its voluntary, community and social enterprise sector funding model.

The department works with about 90 bodies in the voluntary sector to provide some of its services - providing ex-offenders with training in order to help them to find work, for example - and organisations within the sector can also help the department to develop policy.

Brian Grzymek says  the funding model the department wants to implement will help it "increasingly focus on what differences the money is making, rather than the fact the money has been spent".

Brian Grzymek

It will "provide transparency in funding" and strengthen the working relationships between the department and the sector, he adds.

Twenty-six organisations responded to the consultations, with 25 generally supporting of the proposals.

The department intends to publish its final funding model in the next few months and will be implemented in April 2017, gradually rolling out over three years.

In the chair

The DUP's Paul Frew takes the chair for this afternoon's Justice Committee meeting.

MLAs at the Justice Committee meeting

On the agenda is discussion about the Northern Ireland Executive's action plan for tackling paramilitary activity and organised crime, as well as arrangements on allocating funding agreed in last year's Fresh Start agreement.

Just your typical day on Stormont hill...

Children from Forth River Primary School in Belfast donned '70s and '80s fancy dress for a lunchtime performance on the steps of Parliament Buildings.

View more on twitter

The school is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year and the kids were making a song and dance about it for a video to celebrate the milestone.

'Opening hours flexibility important for tourism'

Mr Cunningham says BCC "would consider flexibility in the opening hours is important, obviously from a tourism perspective and a nighttime economy perspective".

He argues for "local council autonomy", saying that BCC operates a "licensed premises group", which discusses matters such as problem premises.

Drinks on a pub table

He adds that the council would be supportive of extending opening hours until 02:00 on 102 nights of the year, which would work out at two nights a week, rather than the total of 12, as contained in the bill.

With the evidence session on the bill at an end, Michelle Gildernew suspends the committee for lunch, and we'll be back at 14:00 for live coverage of the Justice Committee.

'Aligning entertainment and liquor licensing a big area'

Two more local government representatives join Ms Smyth to give evidence.

Patrick Cunningham

Patrick Cunningham of Belfast City Council (BCC) outlines some of its interests regarding the bill.

"The big areas for us are the proposed Easter hours, the additional hours and the alignment of entertainment licensing to liquor licensing, and the extension of drinking-up time," he says.

'Pole dancing on party buses'

Nichola Mallon of the SDLP asks about the practicalities of licensing "party buses".

Mr McCrory says that in Cookstown they ran an experiment called No Booze, No Buses, where police stopped buses at the edge of the County Tyrone town to check for onboard drinking.

Inside a party bus

He says Cookstown "may have up to 40 buses coming up" on some nights, which ultimately led to people urinating and becoming involved in anti-social behaviour on the streets.

NILGA's Karen Smyth says she will ask members of councils' licensing committees about arrangements for vehicles "specifically designed for partying on board".

Committee deputy chair Michelle Gildernew says that "some of the buses have poles for pole dancing, I hear".

'Pre-loading on drink on buses must be considered'

Representatives from the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) arrive to give evidence, and Michael McCrory outlines some of its members concerns about the bill.

Michael McCrory

On extended drinking hours, he says they could result in "high levels of street noise at or after 3am".

Mr McCrory asks the members to consider matters such as "the growth in the practice of 'pre-loading' prior to entering licensed premises" and drinking on buses.

'Potential to be robust with bars who breach licence'

Punishments for premises breaching their licences is a matter raised by Mrs Long, who asks whether they are severe enough.

Alison Douglas of the PSNI outlines that a penalty-point system applies, with premises losing their licences after accumulating a total of 10 points.

A sign outside a bar

A single incident can warrant a penalty of up to five points, depending on how severe it is, and she adds that when points are suspended it is usually only for a short time - as little as seven days, for example.

"I think that there is potential to be quite robust with those who do breach the conditions of their licence," Mrs Long says.

"It would remove a lot of the burden of having to chase the same people up for breaching their conditions over and over again."

'Door staff face a testing environment'

Mrs Long asks how closely police work with door staff at pubs and clubs on how to manage people on a night out.

PC Larkin

PC Larkin says he felt there was a "gap" between door staff and policing but that has been closed due to new initiatives, including guidance on how to look for fake IDs, consulting on what is expected from them and putting in place mutual points-of-contact.

"We know it's a testing environment for them," he says.

'People stay in bars until they're told to leave'

Ch Supt Cargin says the reality is that the longer people spend in pubs and clubs, the more intoxicated they will be, and that police will have to deal with the consequences of that.

Naomi Long

"People tend to stay in until they're told to get out," he says.

But Naomi Long, the Alliance Party's interim leader, says that the extension would allow crowds to drift out gradually and there should be less people on the streets when premises ultimately close their doors.

'Cost to police difficult to calculate'

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford asks if the PSNI has a monetary figure for what the changes to the law would cost the police.

Ch Supt Cargin says it would "take quite a bit of work" to work that out because the bill allows each bar and club to choose which 12 nights of the year to extend its opening hours, and they could vary from area to area.

Culture Night in Belfast

Mr Stalford, whose South Belfast constituency contains the pubs and clubs in the city centre, says policing resources are stretched in the area.

He suggests other parts of Belfast could become more difficult to police if resources were needed to required in the city centre for longer periods of time.

'Need for happy medium to help tourism industry'

Sinn Féin's Fra McCann says that while the police are "guardians of the law", there is a need to "find a happy medium" with the hospitality industry on alcohol licensing.

"One of the biggest planks in the economy today in tourism," he says, adding that the industry "tells us that licensing laws are impacting" on them and their ability to make money.

Fra McCann

He says that rather than putting "five or six" officers outside a premises suspected of selling alchohol beyond the hours the law allows, putting one undercover officer inside is a better method of detecting illegal sale of drink.

PC Paul Larkin says he does that on a regular basis in Londonderry.

'Underage drinking problems at major music events'

The PSNI want an amendment to the bill that would see the introduction of an "event licence for outdoor concerts or awards ceremonies".

Ch Supt Cargin does not believe the current occasional licence system is not appropriate for major music events.

David Guetta

He outlines problems observed by the police at this summer's Belsonic and Tennents Vital festivals in Belfast and an MTV concert in Londonderry, where children were found to be intoxicated, and he says there was "no clear plan" to separate young people from adults who were legally consuming alcohol.

"We are asking for this amendment so that when these large-type events are planned in the future, that the police, if needs be, can place conditions on the applications that the event organisers must comply with," he says.

'Changes to law will impact police budget'

Giving evidence on the bill now are representatives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Ch Supt Stephen Cargin says the force is broadly in support of the contents of the bill but it raises a number of issues that would have a "significant impact on the policing budget".

Ch Supt Stephen Cargin

Extended opening hours for bars and clubs will mean there is an increased demand for policing, as it will take longer to clear the streets after people leave premises.

Another main change the bill would bring is an extension to the drinking-up time from half an hour to an hour, and Ch Supt Cargin says that would mean police would have to be kept on duty for an extra 30 minutes.

'Coming round the roundabout on two wheels!'

Deputy chair Michelle Gildernew arrives, apologises for the wait, and replaces stand-in Nichola Mallon at the top table.

Michelle Gildernew

She says the Stormont security man told her she was "coming round that roundabout on two wheels" on her way into the car park at Parliament Buildings!

'Not appropriate for bill to take effect on royal assent'

First up is Liam Quinn, an official from the Department for Communities, who outlines clause 27 of the bill, which deals with its commencement date.

Liam Quinn

He says it was not deemed appropriate for the bill to come into effect on the date on which it may receive royal assent.

That is because the bill creates new criminal offences, and it would not be fair for businesses to be penalised without having sufficient time to absorb the new law and train their staff appropriately.

In the chair

A slightly unusual situation arises, with neither the Communities Committee chair Colum Eastwood nor its deputy chair Michelle Gildernew present for the meeting.

Nichola Mallon

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon is selected to take the chair in their absence.

Belfast's £165m York Street interchange project on hold

Julian O'Neill

BBC News NI Business Correspondent

A major Northern Ireland roads project costing up to £165m is "on hold", the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has said.

It confirmed the decision about the Belfast York Street Interchange in a statement.

Heavy traffic at the York Street junction

The underpass and bridge project is aimed at easing congestion where the M1, M2 and M3 intersect.

Work is due to begin next year and be complete by 2020.

There has been growing speculation about the scheme, with Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard suggesting that June's Brexit vote had created uncertainty about it receiving EU funding.

On the agenda: Changes to alcohol licensing laws

It's a bit early for a beer or a double vodka, but that's what MLAs will be discussing this morning, with a bill that could lead to changes in Northern Ireland's alcohol licensing laws reaching the committee stage.

The Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill would see a liberalisation of the law, with the main change being that pubs and nightclubs would be able to serve alcohol for an extra hour - until 02:00 - up to 12 times a year.

A man drinks a pint of beer

But the bill does not go as far as many in the hospitality industry would have liked - they wanted late licences to be available every weekend.

Stormont's Communities Committee will take evidence this morning from police and local government officials on what is the first bill of this assembly mandate.  

Good morning

Parliament Buildings at Stormont

Welcome to Thursday's Stormont Live coverage, with the Communities Committee kicking off at 10:00.