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  1. Churches and trade associations give views on new alcohol licensing bill to Communities Committee
  2. Justice Committee hears from department on delivery plan for new draft programme for government

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

That's all for this week!

Chair Paul Frew adjourns what has been a lengthy and sometimes fraught meeting of the Justice Committee.

A microphone in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings

Friday is traditionally the day set aside for MLAs to work in their constituency offices, so we'll be back on Monday with Stormont Live coverage of a full meeting of the assembly.

Have a great weekend!

SDLP attack on Trump 'naive', says McGuinness

John Campbell

BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

View more on twitter

The deputy first minister's comment comes after the SDLP leader described the US president-elect as a "racist, misogynistic buffoon".

What links Trump's victory and Brexit?

Mark Mardell

Presenter, The World This Weekend

"It'll be Brexit plus plus plus!" said Donald Trump. And It was.

Nigel Farage and Donald Trump
Getty Images

If Brexit felt like a political earthquake, the election of this populist president was off the seismic scale.

Make no mistake - this victory, like Brexit, gives a new hope for a better future to those who backed it, and their aspirations and expectations will be sky high.

'Concerns over pardons on homosexual offences'

On the subject of pardons for people convicted of abolished homosexual offences, the UUP's Roy Beggs says he is unhappy with the idea of reprieves "regarding activity under the age of consent at that time".

Paul Frew foresees difficulties with proceeding with Mr Beggs's objections given that "this is an LCM which has been born out of a specific amendment in the House of Lords".

Alan Turing
Getty Images

The amendment has been dubbed the "Turing law" and comes after the pardoning in 2013 of World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing (above) for gross indecency.

Mr Beggs is concerned about the position of people convicted under Northern Ireland's age-of-consent laws before they were adjusted from 17 to 16 years of age and whether there should be a pardon for them.

The committee agrees to write to the minister about the matter.

UK's a special place for me, Trump tells May

US President-elect Donald Trump has spoken to Prime Minister Theresa May and invited her to Washington.

Donald Trump and Theresa May

Downing Street said the two also "affirmed" the importance of the "special relationship" between the countries in a phone call.

The Republican "added that the UK is a 'very, very special place for me and for our country'", the statement from No 10 said.

'LCM handling an absolute shambles from word go'

Mr Frew is, to says the least, unamused by the performance of DoJ officials around the LCMs.

"This has been an absolute shambles from the word go," he says.

Rosemary Crawford

Mr Frew says the PSNI told the committee they needed the hot pursuit powers, and adds that the department's communication with the police service has been "shambolic".

Ms Crawford acknowledges the criticism, saying: "We could have done better".

Maritime hot pursuit powers hit choppy waters

Rosemary Crawford of the DoJ leads a group of officials briefing the committee, saying there there are four areas covered by the LCM.

A PSNi boat on patrol
Press Eye

These are maritime enforcement powers, anonymity for victims of forced marriage, UK cross-jurisdictional arrest powers and pardons for convictions of abolished homosexual offences.

Ms Crawford says the Northern Ireland Policing Board was unable to reach agreement for maritime hot pursuit by the police and therefore a proposal for new hot pursuit powers for the PSNI has been dropped.

Committee turns to Policing and Crime Bill

The Justice Committee's attentions now turn to a legislative consent motion (LCM) on revised proposals for the Policing and Crime Bill.

A police office next to a police vehicle

A LCM is a procedure whereby the Northern Ireland Assembly gives permission for Westminster to legislate on devolved matters.

Chair Paul Frew explains that a number of changes have been made to the LCMs already agreed by the committee.

No concerns after Trump election, says Hamilton

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton says Northern Ireland is "looking forward" to working with incoming US President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump

America is Northern Ireland's top overseas investor, with its firms employing about 23,000 people in the region.

Mr Hamilton says he is "not concerned at all" about future US investment and jobs in spite of Mr Trump's campaign pledges for protectionist trade arrangements.

'Don't narrow field in search for prisons chief'

Straying from the PfG slightly, Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan asks about how the recruitment process is progressing for a new head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Previous director general Sue McAllister stepped down at the end of October, and interviews for the post will be held before Christmas, the officials say.

A prison officer inside a jail

Some committee members suggest there should be a requirement for candidates to live in Northern Ireland due to the demands of the job.

"It's undoubtedly a 24/7 responsibility," Mr Lavery says, acknowledging that that factor is likely to be considered in the recruitment process although he declines to speculate on how.

But Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney says the role has been "controversial" over the years and it is important not to "narrow the field" in the search for the best candidate.

'PfG could give rose-tinted view of crime rate'

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie says he has concerns that the PfG is "giving [a] rose-tinted view" on Northern Ireland's crime figures.

It is based on a survey on crime taken by 2,000 people, which suggests crime rate is falling, but Mr Beattie (below) says PSNI statistics are showing a steady increase in crime.

Doug Beattie

He says more credence needs to be given to the PSNI figures rather than the "perceived figures" gathered in the survey.

Mr McCourt says the DoJ is looking to make the survey "more robust" and make sure it gives the "rich picture".

Mr Lavery adds that the DoJ has been "honest" in its use of the survey figures, and the PSNI's figures could actually indicate success and suggest that more people now feel willing to report crimes.

PSNI faces questions on 'boot camp' report

Vincent Kearney

BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent

Police commanders are meeting the Northern Ireland Policing Board today to discuss a report that said the training regime for new officers is like a military-style boot camp at times.

Officers at a police training college

A review of a training college in east Belfast was ordered after 54 student officers were found to have cheated in their exams.

It described the culture as "pseudo-militaristic", with "an unhealthy leaning towards punitive discipline".

'Could there be blindspots in anti-crime plan?'

Respondents to the PfG consultation raised concerns over reducing crime, committee chair Paul Frew says.

He tells the officials he suspects there are "gaping holes" in the delivery plan, particularly in relation to "anti-social behaviour and fraud, and he asks if there is a "blindspot" in the PfG.

Getty Images

Civil servant says Steven McCourt says the DoJ intends to review the legislation on anti-social behaviour to see if there are gaps and whether measures can be put in place to close them.

He assures the committee that it will be kept informed on the matter.

'Delivery plan has been shaken up'

Appearing before the committee now are Department of Justice (DoJ) officials, who are providing a briefing on the department's delivery plan stemming from the new draft programme for government (PfG).

David Lavery says the DoJ taking a "problem-solving" approach to justice, and it is working with other departments to achieve that.

Witnesses at the committee

As a result of public consultations, there has been "quite a lot of refinement and shaking up" of the DoJ's plan.

The responses "varied considerably" and the department is "trying to strike a balance" between specific requests and broader requirements for action.

In the chair

Paul Frew

This afternoon's meeting of the Justice Committee is being chaired by the DUP's Paul Frew.

No rush for deadline on Troubles issues, says Brokenshire

Stephen Walker

BBC News NI Political Correspondent

There will be no rush by the government to an artificial deadline on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, the Northern Ireland secretary says.

James Brokenshire

It is nearly a year since the Fresh Start Agreement, which contained new proposals on how to handle the past, was signed.

James Brokenshire says work is being done behind the scenes but it cannot be fast-tracked until there is further agreement.

Time for lunch...

Colum Eastwood adjourns the Communities Committee for this week, and with that we'll go for a cuppa and a bit of lunch.

A cup of tea

Join us again at 14:00 for our regular Thursday afternoon session with the Justice Committee.

Items up for discussion include the draft programme for government and the Policing and Crime Bill.

'It's not sectarian, it's a Belfast rant!'

Chair Colum Eastwood runs through some of the committee's forthcoming business, including a suggestion that it visits the Linenhall Library in Belfast city centre.

Michelle Gildernew jokes that "you might need to do a Google Maps for the Belfast ones" because they "don't seem to find the outside meetings very well".

Linenhall Library

The DUP's Christopher Stalford, a South Belfast MLA, dryly suggests that is "very sectarian".

But Ms Gildernew's Sinn Féin colleague Carál Ní Chuilín, says: "It's not sectarian, it's a Belfast rant!"

'Strong views on the church planning exemption'

Department for Communities officials give the committee a briefing on the ecclesiastical exemption consultation.

Iain Greenway explains that all listed places of worship are "exempt from the requirement to obtain listed building consent for the demolition, alteration, or extension" of ecclesiastical buildings.

Inside a Catholic church

The consultation asked whether people agreed with the department's recommendation that the exemption should be removed.

Mr Greenaway says there were 122 responses and it is "fair to say there were strong views on both sides".

Communities Minister Paul Givan announced in September that the exemption would remain in place.

Irish Americans' give views on Trump triumph

Ciaran McCauley


An estimated 34.5 million Irish Americans live in the United States, and many of them voted in the election that saw Donald Trump returned as the country's 45th president.

Pat Troy
Pat Troy

So how does Irish America see the billionaire's rise to the White House?

Some, like Pat Troy (above), are joyous at seeing him elected over Hilary Clinton, but others much less so.

'Addicts don't worry about alcohol cost'

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon asks the church representatives to share their views the possible effects of the bill on alcohol addiction.

A man drinking a bottle of beer

Mr Conway says "pricing isn't the issue here because [addicts] don't eat".

He says people who have an addiction to alcohol "will get their fix by drinking the cheapest, the biggest bottle".

'Church not taking flag-waving temperance position'

The Church of Ireland does not approach the changes to alcohol licencing law from a "flag-waving temperance position", says Rev Adrian Dorrian.

It will "welcome or at least not stand strongly in opposition" to the proposals, he adds.

Rev Adrian Dorrian

But he says there is a need to recognise "a sense of Sabbath" and that a "break from things is good".

"Having a day in the week where the routine is different can be a healthy thing in terms of mental health, community life and family time together."

The church would want to see the changes reviewed after a period of time to see how they had impacted on health and society.

'Who is driving agenda for drinking law change?'

"If I could turn wine into water, that's what I would do," says Rev Dr David McClements of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

An "old fashioned Methodist and a teetotaller", he says his church is opposed to any extension in drinking hours.

A man holding a bottle of beer

"Who drives this agenda?" he asks.

Is it being pushed by commercial interests or for "the greater good of our society", he queries.

'Presbyterians accept cautious changes to licencing'

Representatives of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland churches arrive to give their views on the bill in alcohol licencing.

Representatives from churches at the Communities Committee

Lindsay Conway of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland says it is "not opposed to the extension [of opening hours] for Easter and other parts".

He says that "Easter is a significant time for many" but the spirit - "no pun intended" - of the bill seems to be appropriate and exhibit a "cautious change and a willingness to review".

'Supermarkets depicted as problem over drinking'

Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín raises a number of issues, including the practise of "pre-loading", when people drink at home before going out to pubs and clubs.

She is also concerned that "it is cheaper to buy cider than to buy a loaf and milk".

Alcohol products on supermarket shelves

Mr McDonald says that when the regulation of alcohol sales is discussed "the supermarkets are very rarely in the room" and are "depicted as the problem".

He says that price "is always going to be the trickiest thing" as the supermarkets' appeal is their low prices for basic foodstuffs.

'Alcohol sale laws must be evidence-based'

We're back to the drink now, with the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium's Aodhán Connolly and Joe McDonald of supermarket chain Asda giving their views on the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill.

Mr Connolly says the NIRC wants to make sure its members are not faced with "unnecessarily burdens" and are not "unfairly disadvantaged" by new regulations on the sale of alcohol.

Alcohol on shop shelf

They have been "innovators and not followers" on the responsible sale of alcohol, he says, and they want to see "evidence-based regulation".

"Purely targeted measures that place major burdens on retailers regardless of their approach to alcohol will ultimately affect consumers by reducing choice and value," he adds.

He says the NIRC is not aware of evidence to support some of the regulations proposed in the new bill.

'New benefit rules designed to ensure fairness'

Officials from the Department for Communities are now giving the committee a briefing on the Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Abscence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016.

Originating from the chancellor's autumn statement last year, the regulations end payments to claimants who travel outside Great Britain for a period of more than four weeks.

Bronagh Ramsden

Civil servant Bronagh Ramsden (above) says the changes are "designed to ensure fairness" for taxpayers.

"Working families often cannot afford to leave Northern Ireland for long periods whilst continue paying their rent or mortgage, and it would be unfair to allow benefit claimants to continue in a more favourable position," she adds.

Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín says the rules create a "burden" that would make things more difficult for benefit claimants.

'We're going on the run for next marathon'

Leafing through some committee business, Mrs Gildernew says an attempt by members to host a reception at Stormont for athletes from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who took part in the summer's Olympic and Paralympic Games has hit a snag.

It seems that getting all of the sportsmen and women together has been impossible.

Communities Committee in session

"We want to give them the recognition they deserve, but if they're focused on the next training event this is just a distraction", the Sinn Féin MLA says.

Her party colleague Fra McCann jokes he and fellow well-built committee member Adrian McQuillan would also be absent from any celebration because they have gone "back into training for the next marathon"!

'Restrictions to sales could be burdensome'

Giving his reaction to the bill is Miles Beale of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), which represents the "bulk" of major supermarkets in Northern Ireland.

He says the WSTA has some concerns over the bill's content, particularly on its restrictions to off-sales drinks promotions, which he says could be "burdensome" for businesses, adding that no evidence has been seen to show it leads to fewer alcohol abuse problems.

Miles Beale

Mr Beale outlines the idea of community alcohol partnerships, which bring retailers, police, health services and groups in an attempt to tackle underage drinking, with the WSTA providing funding and offering its advice.

He says there is only one in Northern Ireland, based in Londonderry, and the WSTA would like to see a larger uptake in the region.

In the chair

Michelle Gildernew

Communities Committee chair Colum Eastwood is absent, so deputy chair Michelle Gildernew take the top seat and gets the session under way.

Racist Trump remarks made in heat of battle, says Kenny

Donald Trump has invited Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to continue the tradition of visiting the White House on St Patrick's Day.

Donald Trump

The US president-elect held a 10-minute phone conversation with Mr Kenny, during which the taoiseach congratulated him on his election victory.

Mr Kenny had previously criticised Mr Trump for his use of "racist and dangerous" language in the election campaign, but now says those remarks were made in the "heat of battle".

Background: Changes to alcohol licensing laws

First up this morning MLAs are talking booze as the Communities Committee discusses a bill that could lead to changes in Northern Ireland's alcohol licensing laws.

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.

Pints of beer on a pub table

But for many in the hospitality sector, it does not go far enough. They wanted late licences to be available every weekend.

Last month the Communities Committee heard from police and councils on the proposed changes and today they will take evidence from churches and trade associations.

New US President Trump's Irish links

The boss of Donald Trump's Irish golf resort says he hopes to see him return to Doonbeg in County Clare as US president.

Doonbeg golf resort
Trump Hotels

The Republican candidate defeated his rival Hillary Clinton in one of the most divisive elections in US history, but Joe Russell said the Trump he knows is a "very different" to the one portrayed in the media.

Good morning

Welcome along to our Stormont Live coverage of Thursday's committee business on what is a cold but bright day up at Parliament Buildings.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont

We'll be keeping track of the Communities Committee from 10:00 and then the Justice Committee from 14:00.