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Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

  1. Goodnight

    That concludes the assembly session for today.

    Join us again tomorrow and until then, stay safe and have a lovely evening.

  2. 'We have been exceptionally busy and torn'

    Jim Allister of the TUV asks the minister for further clarification around the issue of "essential work places," especially those in the manufacturing industry.

    Mr Allister specifically names the Wrightbus company, who he says have made claims that they cannot get guidance on whether "their agency workers are covered".

    Jim Allister

    Mrs Dodds responds that she was "not aware" Wrightbus "had contacted the department".

    She adds, "we have been exceptionally busy and torn.

    "We are now operating in a situation where most of staff are working from home."

    She adds that she will follow up on this issue.

  3. 'Not just employees' hit by crisis

    Green Party MLA Rachel Woods asks the minister to outline what support will be given to self-employed people during this time and when she expects that advice to be published.

    Mrs Dodds responds that the "Chancellor was going to bring forward package today" and that she and the Finance minister had written to the Treasury to say the proposed measures were good but "should go further".

    Rachel Woods

    The minister says that she would "urge them to bring forward measures with all speed" adding that it is "not just employees but it is other parts of our economy" which have been hit by this crisis.

  4. 'Non-essential businesses should close'

    The SDLP's Justin McNulty asks for clarity on financial packages for the self employed such as "the hairdressers, the architects, taxi drivers, mechanics, car valeters and washers, music tutors, beauty therapists, driving instructors".

    He also asks for advice for a business in his constituency that supplies plants for Aldi and Lidl.

    Justin McNulty

    The minister says that "despite the long list, I'd addressed most of those issues that you raised earlier".

    Referring to businesses having to close, she says she knows that "it's tough".

    She says that if someone's business is deemed non-essential then it should close.

  5. 'Companies must follow PHA advice'

    Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd asks the minister what advice she advice she has for manufacturing companies that cannot adhere to the two metre distance rule.

    He says an aerospace company in his constituency is having difficulties with this.

    DIane Dodds

    "I am sorry to hear that, "says Mrs Dodds.

    She says companies need to provide safe workspaces for their employees.

    "They need to follow the PHA (Public Health Agency) guidance on this," the minister adds.

  6. 'Those who can work from home should work from home'

    Alliance's Andrew Muir asks the minister to clarify who and what is an essential worker in relation to those who need to stay at home during the ongoing crisis.

    Mrs Dodds reiterates what the prime minister said last night - that "all shops deemed as non-essential was indicated they should shut".

    "Those who could work from home should work from home," she says.

    Andrew Muir

    "There has been some attempt at UK level of drawing up a list of essential and non-essential," she says.

    But adds that she believes it "doesn't reflect the critical importance of supply chains".

    "We will need to give a little bit more thought to that and how we feed into that at both a UK and NI level," she adds.

  7. 'Information is key'

    John Stewart of the UUP tells the minister "information is key" and welcomes the "employment protection scheme" announced by British government.

    John Stewart

    Mrs Dodds describes it as a "game changer" but adds there is "more to do, but it is very attractive".

    She says it's a Treasury scheme and they are responsible for providing the detail.

  8. 'Recognise the issues and difficulties'

    The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole asks the minister about information for businesses as well as provisions for the film and television industry.

    Mrs Dodds says the "NI business info website is a really good source of information for businesses and communities out there" as well as the Department of Economy website.

    "We all know someone either within work, finances or their health who will be impacted by this terrible situation," she adds.

    Matthew O'Toole

    In relation to the film industry, the minister says she is "due to have a phone call with NI screen and I recognise the issues and difficulties that are there".

  9. 'People are anxious about food supply'

    The DUP's Gary Middleton asks about food supplies and the supermarkets.

    The minister says some of the supermarkets estimated there was "a billion pounds more food overall bought in the last number of weeks than they would normally expect".

    Gary Middleton

    "I think that reflects that people are afraid and people are anxious," she adds.

    She says she has been in contact with the major supermarkets and food distributors by teleconference and they assured her that the supply chain is strong and there was no need to panic buy.

  10. Concerns about maintaining the power network

    Sinn Féin's Caoimhe Archibald chairs the Economy Committee.

    She raises a number of issues, include that of retail businesses that remain open and are concerned about matters such as maintaining social distancing and hand sanitising and also the enforcement of business closures.

    Caoimhe Archibald

    Picking up on one of Dr Archibald's earlier points, the minister says the department is very concerned about ensuring the network and the generation of power.

    "We have been monitoring that very, very carefully," she says.

  11. 'Extraordinary crisis requires bold action'

    Mrs Dodds says she is "inspired by the determination of people and businesses who have offered help in sourcing things".

    She says a number of "companies said they can adapt production lines to produce ventilators or PPE," adding that more than 30 companies have offered to participate in a manufacturing consortia to make ventilators".

    The minister also says "four companies in Northern Ireland are working on providing COVID-19 testing".

    "Business is doing what business does, reacting and innovating," she adds.

    Diane Dodds

    The minister says she pledges to "do what I can to help businesses through this period" and that "extraordinary crisis requires bold action".

    She says she hopes to make a written statement tomorrow about a web portal which is currently being put together "where business can register if they are eligible for small business relief grant".

    In relation to food supply, the minster says "our food supply chains are strong," and that people "don't need to panic or stockpile".

    "None of this is easy, but working together for a common goal we can and will get through this."

  12. 'Devastating impact on economies worldwide'

    Next up we have a statement from Economy Minister Diane Dodds on the economy in the light of COVID-19.

    She opens by saying the coronavirus pandemic is "the most serious global health and economic crisis any of us have ever lived through".

    Mrs Dodds says the virus and the measures taken to combat it "have had a devastating impact on economies around the world and Northern Ireland is no exception".

    Diane Dodds

    "Just this afternoon I heard that Bombardier have been in touch to say that all of their worldwide operations have ceased for the moment," she adds.

    The minister says people are concerned about putting food on the table, and people who have spent their lives building a business fear that it will be gone.

    She says she is confident that the economy will recover "and I will be ready to assist in that recovery phase".

  13. 'Streamline existing benefit processes'

    The minister then wraps on the motion.

    She responds to some of the issues raised by MLAs and says the department is "trying to throw everything at this to defend essential services" while also "rolling back on other services".

    She says they are working hard to "streamline existing benefit processes".

    Deirdre Hargey

    Ms Hargey says staff in her department are to be "commended in terms of the front line public service they are providing" and that an "hourly review, not a daily review," is being undertaken "to see if we have too many staff who have to self isolate".

    The motion passes on an oral vote.

  14. 'Rule book to be ripped up or to be put into drawer'

    Alliance's John Blair raises the issue of a "universal credit applicant finding the verification processes weren’t coping with demand".

    He says he raises the point "not as a criticism" but as a point of concern.

    Meanwhile Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd says he welcomes the measures, adding that last week he "called for the rule book to be ripped up or to be put into drawer until we got through this crisis".

    NI Assembly

    And Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit asks the minister about staffing to enable the volume of applications to be addressed.

  15. 'Constituents with nil income'

    The SDLP's Patsy McGlone welcomes the initiative.

    He says he's sure all the members will have been contacted by people concerned about having "nil income".

    Patsy McGlone

    Robbie Butler of the UUP says these are uncertain times and it is imperative that the members support their ministers to ensure support packages are available.

  16. 'Pragmatic, logical and real world measures'

    Sinéad Ennis, of Sinn Féin, describes COVID-19 as a "nightmare journey".

    She says the "regulations provide a short term living grant to someone who has to self isolate," or member of that person's family.

    "It's absolutely the right thing to do."

    Sinéad Ennis

    She thanks the minister for taking "pragmatic, logical and real world measures" and for acting "swiftly over the last number of days" to ensure "people will not be punished for doing the right thing".

  17. 'There's enough anxiety in society today'

    Paula Bradley, the chair of the Communities Committee says she believes the members would welcome the bill.

    She says "loans serve to put people in debt" and that there is "enough anxiety in society today without further adding to it by indebting people".

    "We don't want people wondering what support they can get in a week or two," she adds.

    She does however ask the minister to outline whether there will be additional resources allocated to process applications.

    Paula Bradley

    Speaking as a DUP representative, Ms Bradley thanks the minister and the executive for "steering us through" this difficult period.

    She goes on to thank those "literally putting their lives on the line" to help people access healthcare.

  18. COVID-19 financial support

    Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey now moves the draft Discretionary Support (Amendment) (COVID-19) Regulations.

    She says the regulations come in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic and are being brought under an urgent procedure.

    Ms Hargey says she has a responsibility for people who find themselves in a crisis situation as a result of COVID-19.

    Deirdre Hargey

    The minister says the measure will ensure that there is additional financial support available for the most vu;lnerable people.

    She says it is not available on England, Scotland and Wales.

    The minister says discretionary payments are made in "extreme, exceptional or crisis situations".

    The COVID-19 will introduce a new discretionary payment to help people during this crisis in the form of non-repayable grants.

    It will apply to people who find themselves with no means of meeting immediate living costs as a result of being diagnosed with COVID-19 or being advised to self-isolate because of COVID-19.