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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all from Stormont this week

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    After four busy days up on Stormont hill, the assembly's working week draws to a close - thanks for following our coverage.

    We'll be back on Monday to bring you coverage of the plenary session in the assembly chamber from 12:00.

    Until then, wrap up warm and save yourselves from the incoming Storm Jorge!

  2. Justice minister's briefing to committee ends

    Peter May and Naomi Long

    Warm words are exchanged between Justice Minister Naomi Long and Justice Committee chair Paul Givan.

    "Three hours 20 minutes later - you've been very generous with your time, minister," says Mr Givan.

    Mrs Long tells the MLAs on the committee: "I look forward to working with you and maybe next time I come it'll be slightly shorter!"

  3. No united Ireland in my lifetime, says Foster

    Gareth Gordon

    BBC News NI political correspondent

    First Minister Arlene Foster has said she does not think there will be a border poll or a united Ireland in her lifetime.

    Arlene Foster

    Sinn Féin has said it wants a referendum on Irish reunification within five years and some recent opinion polls have shown an increase in support for getting rid of the border.

    But DUP leader Mrs Foster told the BBC's The View there were more important things requiring attention.

    Read more: No border poll in my lifetime, says Foster

  4. 'Justice minister can't resolve all of society's problems'

    Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan refers to a statistic that emerged when Northern Ireland Prison Service boss Ronnie Armour appeared before the Justice Committee a couple of years ago.

    Mr Sheehan says only 15% of the Prison Service workforce comes from the Catholic community and he wants to know what the minister is doing to address that.

    Maghaberry Prison

    "Not all of society's problems are things that I can resolve as justice minister," says Naomi Long.

    She says she thinks there's a challenge to the committee members in terms of changing the culture of perception of some of the roles people play in society.

    "The idea of a prison officer as a jailer who simply locks people up and that that's the end of their role probably doesn't make it particularly attractive to quite a lot of people and not just people from a Catholic background," adds the minister.

  5. 'Commons vote to legalise abortion not best way to resolve issue'

    The issue of abortion is no longer a criminal matter and does not fall under the justice department's remit, says Naomi Long.

    Abortion in Northern Ireland was decriminalised in October when MPs passed legislation in the House of Commons and the government has to put in place legislation about the provision of abortion services by the end of next month.

    DUP MLA Gordon Dunne asks the justice minister what involvement she's had in the process.

    A woman speaking to a health professional

    Mrs Long says she's had no engagement about the regulatory framework because it's a matter for the Northern Ireland Office and Stormont's Department of Health.

    Committee chair Paul Givan - a DUP MLA - is critical of the legislative process that has led to the reform of abortion law, particularly that there was "no consultation with the public" and it "got 17 minutes of a debate on such a fundamental" issue.

    Mrs Long says it wasn't the best way to resolve the issue but it "may well have been the only way to resolve the issue at that time".

    "Proper consultation and engagement is crucial in terms of shaping legislation."

  6. 'Departments should link up to deal with cyber bullying'

    Cyber bullying is "becoming a serious issue among young people and school children" and is often "really vitriolic", says SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone.

    He raises it with the Justice Minister Naomi Long, who tells him cyber crime and online offences are a matter for Westminster.

    A man typing on a computer keyboard

    But she adds that "things that would be criminal offline would still be criminal online", such as harassment and abuse.

    The minister thinks there's work to be done to help keep people safe online and to raise awareness of online abuse.

    She suggests it's something a number of departments - such as health, communities, education and justice -could link up on in order to deal with it.

  7. 'Prison Service working to improve mental health in jails'

    About a third of people in Northern Ireland's prisons have had help from the health service in relation to their mental health, according to Justice Minister Naomi Long.

    A "significant proportion of the prison population are vulnerable", she adds.

    Mrs Long tells the committee there will "always be a challenge" in relation prisoners' mental health but it's "something the Prison Service and prison officers have taken very seriously and there have been significant improvements" as a result of that.

    She says that this morning she and boxers Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes were at Hydebank Wood - the young offenders' centre and women's prison in south Belfast - to speak to those in the facility who had taken part in non-contact boxing training over recent weeks.

    View more on twitter

    She says a "lot of them talked about the fact that they wanted to continue that when they leave" because the training and the exercise had helped them to "deal with stress, anxiety, depression".

    Projects like that help to build resilience and help prisoners to make a "positive contribution to society" after their release.

  8. 'Cooperation with European justice bodies absolutely crucial'

    Committee chair Paul Givan asks the justice minister about the government's document published today on the future relationship with the EU.

    He says it indicates the UK will not seek to be part of Europol, Eurojust or seek access to the European arrest warrant - he wants to know how that'll affect Stormont's justice department and what effect it'll have on the approach of the executive's Brexit sub-committee.

    Detectives at work

    Naomi Long says her department has been working with the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to make sure Northern Ireland-specific issues remain on their agenda.

    "Issues around data sharing and data adequacy that underpin our ability to co-operate - whether it's with other police forces, with Europol and Eurojust - those are absolutely crucial," she adds.

  9. 'Not my responsibility to assess terrorist threats'

    Two weeks ago, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne was challenged at the Justice Committee about the status of the Provisional IRA and its army council - he said it was an issue for the Northern Ireland secretary.

    The DUP's Paul Frew says he and other MLAs have since asked the same question to the justice minister in the assembly chamber and she also said it was not a matter for her to comment on.

    Asked whether she still stands by that view, Naomi Long says the "assessment of terrorist threat and activity and existence of organisations is not the responsibility of the justice department".

    Naomi Long responds to question from Paul Frew at Justice Committee

    "It is not my job to assess whether organisations are active or inactive," says Mrs Long.

    "That is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office to make that assessment."

    She tells Mr Frew she'll meet new Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and "will undoubtedly discuss whether he intends or not to make a fresh assessment" about the stautus of the IRA.

    The last assessment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland was published in 2015 by the then Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

  10. Communities minister summarises her committee appearance

    View more on twitter

    After giving MLAs on the Communities Committee an update this morning on her top priorities in office, Deirdre Hargey takes to Twitter to sum up what she told them.

  11. 'Domestic violence bill should be introduced in April'

    The DUP's Paul Frew wants to know why MLAs haven't had a domestic violence bill placed in front of them.

    Justice Minister Naomi Long says she had to decide whether to adopt Westminster's new legislation or bring Northern Ireland-specific legislation through the assembly.

    The Westminster option "would have been quicker but less complete", she says, while a Stormont bill would have allowed the assembly, the Justice Committee, support charities and victims to "have ownership of the legislation".

    A woman with her head in her hands while a man stands over her

    She says there was new drafting to be done, including considerations about to whether stalking should be included or be the subject of separate legislation - the decision was taken to pursue that issue separately.

    Mrs Long says she's confident the bill will be with the committee in April and hopes the members will have it before the Easter recess.

  12. 'Stalking legislation could be introduced in autumn'

    Justice Minister Naomi Long says she hopes a bill to deal with stalking in Northern Ireland can be put before the assembly in the autumn.

    Existing laws are not fit for purpose, campaigners say - one of those pushing for a stalking bill is Fiona Jamieson (below), whose daughter Ciara was seriously assaulted by her ex-partner.

    Video content

    Video caption: The mother of an assault victim says Northern Ireland's law does not protect against stalking

    Mrs Long says the bill will make stalking a specific offence and will allow for the introduction of stalking protection orders.

    She tells the committee that at the moment if someone is being stalked they must use the law covering harassment but it "can be quite difficult" to secure a conviction on that basis.

    "Often when someone is being stalked the individual actions... fall below the threshold that would qualify as harassment under the current law but it's the pattern and repetition of the behaviour that constitutes stalking."

    The minister says officials have taken the views of victims, particularly in relation to the "biggest challenges" they faced when they reported what had been happening to them.

  13. Over at the Public Accounts Committee

    Enda McClafferty

    BBC News NI political correspondent

    The Northern Ireland Audit Office is briefing MLAs on the Public Accounts Committee as part of their inquiry into major capital projects in Northern Ireland that have gone vastly over their original budget.

    View more on twitter

    BBC News NI covered the story in December - the projects include the A5 road upgrade, the Casement Park GAA stadium, Ulster University's new Belfast campus and the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.

  14. 'Stormont House or nothing at all for Troubles legacy issues'

    Committee vice-chair Linda Dillon asks the justice minister for her views on the creation of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and whether she sees it as "being beneficial in terms of overall justice brief".

    The HIU was first mentioned in the Stormont House agreement in 2014 and was to take on the criminal justice element of looking into Northern Ireland's Troubles.

    As part of the New Decade, New Approach deal that was struck to restore Stormont last month, Westminster agreed to implement legislation that would see the HIU formed within 100 days.

    Naomi Long at the Justice Committee

    In response to Ms Dillon's question, Naomi Long says the Stormont House Agreement is "imperfect but I don't think we can allow perfect to become the enemy of the good".

    "It is not a choice between Stormont House and something better - it's a choice between Stormont House and nothing at all."

    Mrs Long also says the existing system is "completely broken".

  15. '50-50 police recruitment a blunt tool with unintended consequences'

    The PSNI's latest recruitment ended this week, drawing almost 7,000 applicants.

    About a third of those who want to join are from the Catholic community - 2,158, which is an increase of 223 on number in the last recruitment drive in 2018.

    Committee chair Paul Givan asks the justice minister if she sticks to her position on the 50-50 recruitment policy - that is one Catholic recruit for every one recruit from a Protestant or other background - that she's "up for conversation" about considering it as a last resort.

    PSNI passing out parade

    Naomi Long replies: "It's not a conversation I would want to have - what I would want to have is a pool of applicants that would ensure that we do have a reflective police service without having to artificially manufacture that."

    She says she's "not a fan" of 50-50 recruitment, describing it as a "very blunt tool" with "unintended consequences in terms of confidence in other parts of the community, which is unhelpful".

    Mrs Long says that as justice minister she has to listen to advice and guidance and be prepared to have those discussions and the reintroduction of the policy would ultimately be for the whole Stormont executive to decide upon.

    Sinn Féin and the SDLP have both called for the reintroduction of a 50-50 recruitment policy, which ran for a decade until 2011.

  16. 'Prison in poor state and needs complete rebuild'

    Committee chair Paul Givan wants to know if there is "an ambitious bid going in for capital spend" on the police estate, the prisons estate and the courts estate.

    Justice Minister Naomi Long says the estates project for the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is "quite an important one" to make courthouses more accessible and to recognise they're not used just for criminal issues but also for family justice and other matters.

    She says Magilligan Prison (below) near Limavady in County Londonderry "is in a poor state and needs considerable rebuild".

    Magilligan Prison

    There is also a need for a women's prison, she notes.

    Mrs Long says that as far as the police estate is concerned, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) needs to work its proposals through with the Northern Ireland Policing Board and then take them to the justice department.

    "I think that there are sufficiently ambitious projects that if there is money available and capital we would not find that difficult to spend," she adds.

  17. 'It's a challenging environment financially'

    Committee chair Paul Givan asks the justice minister about the funding required to achieve some of her aims.

    Naomi Long outlines that the Finance Minister Conor Murphy (below) intends to delay the Northern Ireland budget to "take account of the budget in Westminster" on 11 March.

    Conor Murphy

    She says adds that it'll be a "challenging environment financially" but she's suggested to other executive ministers that until the budget it finalised plans should be made based on the budget available at the moment.

    She says ministers should prioritise issues "not just within [their] department but actually also prioritise the department's asks against other departments' demands as we need to be realistic about that".

  18. 'I'll make sure criminals don't enjoy benefit of ill-gotten gains'

    A "culture of lawfulness" needs to be embedded in society in order to "robustly" challenge any perceived legitimacy for paramilitary groups, says Justice Minister Naomi Long.

    Work needs to be done to stop young people from becoming involved with such groups, she adds.

    She tells the committee she'll make sure criminals "don't enjoy the benefits of their ill-gotten gains" - she intends to introduce legislation cracking down on criminal finances and unexplained wealth.

    Masked men attacking a man on a street

    Turning to the issue of reoffending, she says people released from prisons must be supported when they are released.

    "It's vital that we work with them while they're in our care, challenging them and supporting them to change offending behaviour," adds the minister.

    She says that "if we want a safer community" then investing in helping offenders is necessary and important.

    And on the big issue of mental health, she says she'll work with Health Minister Robin Swann to help people who come into contact with those with the justice system.

  19. Infrastructure minister orders 52 new MoT lifts

    BBC News NI

    Fifty-two new lifts have been bought for Northern Ireland's MoT centres, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced.

    Cars at an MoT centre

    It comes after cracks were discovered in 52 of 55 lifts, leading to thousands of tests being cancelled.

    The cost of buying the new lifts is £1.8m and will be paid out of Driver and Vehicle Agency funds.

    Read more: Infrastructure minister orders 52 new MoT lists