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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for this evening

    We're off to rest our typing fingers - it's been one of the longest days at the assembly for some years.

    We'll be back at 10:00 tomorrow for a meeting of the Infrastructure Committee.

    And in the afternoon, the first and deputy first ministers will be putting in an appearance at the Committee for the Executive Office.

    In the meantime, goodnight and sleep well.

  2. Schools 'having to read between the lines'

    Catherine Kelly of Sinn Féin wraps on the motion and says “never before has our education system faced so many challenges”.

    She says parents are busy buying uniforms and getting ready for the first day at school, but questions what that will look like.

    Ms Kelly says schools have been left “in the large, having to read between the lines”.

    She adds that parents have not been given insight into the summer provision which will be provided for their children.

    She urges MLAs to support the motion and the amendment.

    Catherine Kelly

    The temporary speaker Jim Wells moves members to a vote on the motion and amendment. Both of which pass.

  3. 'No teachers were in holiday mode'

    Justin McNulty

    Justin McNulty winds for the SDLP amendment.

    He says that given the hour, it's 22:25, he's not going to re-hash what the members have said.

    Mr McNulty says that over the pandemic period he has not met a single teacher "in holiday mode" as they were busy teaching online.

  4. 'We are on a good trajectory at the minute'

    Peter Weir, the Education Minister, is invited to respond to the motion.

    He beings by paying tribute to Noah Donohoe and shares his sympathy with his family and friends.

    While the minister says he is not aware of any child in NI have died in relation to Covid-19, he says he knows a number of children have died during lockdown and wishes to extend his thoughts to these families as well.

    Mr Weir says he acknowledges there are concerns around the reopening of schools, adding that while there is not a consensus, one of the biggest concerns out there is “lost learning and lost opportunities”.

    “I believe we are on a good trajectory at the minute,” says the minister and that he hopes to eventually be able to move to five days a week of learning for young people.

    He puts on record the "incredible work" that has been done by those in the wider education sector throughout “this challenging period”.

    Peter Weir

    Mr Weir says the aim was to get guidance out to schools as soon as possible with the approval of the executive.

    He says he is aware that “some feel the guidance doesn’t go far enough”.

    Turning to social distancing guidance, he says “there is no distance that is ultimately safe” but adds it’s about “providing a level of protection” which can mitigate the virus spread.

  5. Fears of hospitality workers

    Gerry Carroll

    Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit thanks the UUP's Steve Aiken for standing aside, thus making a final speaking slot available for him.

    He says he's happy to support the motion and the amendment.

    Mr Carroll notes that workers in the hospitality sector will face the same fears by the end of this week by being "forced back into work or lose their jobs".

    The West Belfast MLA says the executive's handling of the pandemic has been "very worrying and disastrous" in some cases.

  6. 'One size is not going to fit all'

    Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin is up next. He says he’s speaking as the father of two young daughters who will be going into P1 and P5 this year.

    He puts on record his thanks to the teachers in their schools for their dedication and diligence in helping parents over the last number of months.

    Mr Sheehan talks about Irish-medium schools and says they are “already at full capacity”, adding there are concerns about the lack of available space having a knock-on impact on the schools parents would seek to select for their child.

    Pat Sheehan

    Kellie Armstrong of Alliance declares an interest as she is a mum of a 17-year-old who is due to sit A levels and she is also a governor of a primary school.

    She says schools and pupils do not need to be hearing “politicians knocking lumps out of each other”.

    Mrs Armstrong says “one size is not going to fit all” in relation to schools.

    Kellie Armstrong

    Cara Hunter of the SDLP says working together would be “highly beneficial for us all”.

    She says her concern derides from schools sizes.

    Ms Hunter says her party welcomes the decision of some schools to remove academic selection this year.

    Cara Hunter
  7. 'Clear guidance needed on social distancing'

    Chris Lyttle chairs the Education Committee but has indicated he's speaking as a member of the Alliance Party.

    He says it's time to get past the "unacceptable narrative" that some people within the education sector are attempting to not do their job.

    Mr Lyttle clear guidance is needed on social distancing in schools and there should be a budget to reopening schools.

    Chris Lyttle

    The DUP's Paul Frew says he has no issue with the contents of the motion and the amendment and that they seem "reasonable enough".

    He says the home schooling of children has led to a "mish-mash" in family life" and must be a "massive burden".

  8. 'Teachers have been used and abused'

    The DUP’s William Humphrey is up next and before remarking on the motion, declares he sits on two boards of governors.

    He says the reopening of schools is key to reopening the economy, along with childcare.

    Mr Humphrey refers to the funeral of the veteran republican, Bobby Storey, which took place today.

    He claims Sinn Féin MLAs who attended the funeral “breached Covid-19 regulations” and adds that their action “flies in the face of all of that”.

    “What a message to those people who have been practising social distancing,” says Mr Humphrey.

    William Humphrey

    The UUP’s Robbie Butler welcomes the motion and amendment and says his party will be supporting them.

    In recent weeks “teachers have been used and abused,” says Mr Butler.

    He says it’s important “to give leadership” adding that teachers should not be “caught in the crossfire”.

    "There are serious priorities," says the MLA, and refers to transport concerns for young people.

    Robbie Butler
  9. School distancing proposals 'don't make sense'

    Daniel McCrossan moves the SDLP amendment, which calls for "an essential catch-up programme to be established for all pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds".

    He criticises people who have made "upsetting" comments about teachers while schools have been closed.

    Mr McCrossan quotes research to the effect that only half of pupils in Northern Ireland have sufficient technology at home.

    He says children from affluent backgrounds have spent 30% more time on education at home than those in more deprived areas.

    Daniel McCrossan

    Mr McCrossan raises concerns about the proposals regarding social distancing in schools.

    He says plans to keep teachers 2m away from pupils "doesn't make sense" - particularly for younger children.

    The Education Minister, Peter Weir intervenes.

    He says the measures described by Mr McCrossan were supported unanimously in the executive, including by the SDLP.

  10. 'Dribs and drabs' of information

    Karen Mullan of Sinn Féin moves the motion for debate.

    She begins by paying tribute to the family and friends of Noah Donohoe - a body believed to be that of the missing Belfast teenager was found in a storm drain on Saturday, almost a week after the 14-year-old was last seen near the Shore Road in north Belfast.

    Karen Mullan

    “Many will have found it difficult to access equipment for remote learning,” says the MLA, adding that others will have faced “difficult circumstances at home”.

    She says the minister must work with staff and pupils in the run-up to the reopening of schools.

    Ms Mullan thanks the unions for their work during the pandemic and says it was “wrong” for teachers to hear “dribs and drabs” about plans to reopen schools.

    “Many have been in their classrooms trying to redesign layouts,” says the MLA.

    She says schools are keen to get clarity on pressing issues such as transport for children.

    Mrs Mullan says when reopening takes place, schools need to be “equipped” with necessary resources to address the well-being of young people and their mental health.

    The Sinn Féin MLA welcomes the move of some schools to suspend transfer tests for children moving to post-primary.

  11. Concern and Anxiety over the Reopening of Schools

    Up next is Private Members Business.

    A motion about Concern and Anxiety over the Reopening of Schools has been brought to the chamber by a number of Sinn Féin MLAs, including:

    • Karen Mullan
    • Catherine Kelly
    • John O’Dowd
    • Pat Sheehan
    NI Assembly

    Interim speaker, Jim Wells, invites the clerk to read the motion.

    "That this Assembly recognises the concern and anxiety that exists among teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as among parents and young people, in relation to the eventual reopening of schools; understands the challenges facing school Boards of Governors and Principals in keeping children and teachers safe while providing high quality education; believes that any reopening of schools should be based on scientific and medical advice consistent with that provided by the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control; and calls on the Minister of Education to engage and consult extensively with education stakeholders as well as parents and young people in advance of the reopening of schools in order to provide clear and early guidance."

  12. 'Some certainty for housing associations'

    As the bill reaches its final hurdle a number of members take the opportunity to pass comment.

    Kellie Armstrong of Alliance is the deputy chair of the Communities Committee and says she's glad they've reached this stage with a bill that provides the housing associations "some certainty".

    She says the committee looks forward to the bill receiving royal assent.

    Wide shot of the assembly

    Sinéad Ennis of Sinn Féin says her party believes adequate housing is human right and that rural areas should not be left out in the development of new social and affordable homes.

    The SDLP's Mark Durkan says he supports the bill, as does the UUP's Andy Allen.

    People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll says he wants to reiterate his concerns.

    He says it will "reprivatise housing associations" and that he's opposed to the bill.

    The minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, replies to the debate.

    She says some families are paying £685 a month renting in the private sector but £328 in mortgage costs under co-ownership.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says she wants to look at new options for social housing.

    The bill passes on an oral vote and proceeds to royal assent.

  13. Housing Bill

    After a brief change of personnel at the top table, with Roy Beggs making way for Jim Wells to stand in as temporary speaker..

    Mr Wells moves the assembly to the next item of business, the final stage of the Housing (Amendment) Bill.

    Carál Ní Chuilín

    The Communities Minister says “I welcome this further opportunity to speak about this bill and why it’s important for the future of our social and affordable housing programmes”.

    Carál Ní Chuilín says she wants to address a number of issues raised in previous debates on the bill around the late publication of the consultation report.

    She says she has written to the chair of the Communities Committee explaining the matter.

    “The ONS reclassification decision put at risk the financial arrangements we have to allow our registered housing associations to provide homes for our most vulnerable.”

    She adds that last week she announced a £10m investment to enable the co-ownership scheme to reopen to new customers since a pause caused by Covid-19 in March.

  14. 'Regression is a straw man'

    Environment Minister Edwin Poots replies to the debate.

    He says a number of members have referred to "regression", but he says regression will only happen if the assembly wants it.

    Regression is "a straw man".

    The minister assures the members that passing the LCM will change nothing.

    Edwin Poots

    What we can do "is ensure that nothing changes," he says, adding that there is nothing in this legislation that will prevent the assembly or the Agriculture Department bringing its own environment bill.

    Referring to the demand expressed by some members for an independent environmental protection agency, the minister says "it is not some great panacea".

    The deputy speaker Roy Beggs moves the house to an oral vote and the LCM passes.

  15. 'Not tailored to the needs and aspirations' of NI

    The SDLP’s Justin McNulty says “unless we act strategically” and in “harmony” across the islands, there will be poor environmental impacts.

    “Brexit cannot be allowed to be used as an instrument to reduce environmental standards,” he says.

    “The bill in it’s current form does not achieve what has been promised, namely gold standard legislation,” adds Mr McNulty.

    “There are too many gaps, and too few protections.”

    Justin McNulty

    Rachel Woods of the Green Party is up next. She says NI was not consulted on this legislation as it is “not tailored to the needs and aspirations" of NI.

    She adds that she understands the need to “plug the legislative gap” resulting from Brexit, but says she won’t be supporting the LCM today.

    Rachel Woods
  16. 'Sub-par environmental provisions'

    The SDLP's Sinead McLaughlin says the bill is "another example of a bill that we have been unable to get enough clarity around and it is one more indication that the UK government is facing in several different directions at once".

    She says there is a need to resurrect the commitments made in the New Decade, New Approach to an independent environmental protection agency.

    She says her party will support the LCM as the alternative would be to have no environmental governance.

    Sinead McLaughlin

    Green Party leader Clare Bailey leader says the measures they are being asked to support are "sub-par provisions".

    She says they are still under consideration in Westminster but MLAs are being asked to "rush them through here".

    Ms Bailey says she cannot support the extension of these measures to Northern Ireland.

  17. 'Environmental governance gap'

    The UUP’s Rosemary Barton says the bill is “very complex” and there's been little time to scrutinise it.

    She says in general, the second part focuses on improvements to the environment.

    Ms Barton says there are a number of concerns with the bill “as it stands at present”, and outlines these, adding “it may be necessary in the future to bring forward a bespoke NI Environmental bill”.

    Rosemary Barton

    John Blair of Alliance says he supports the LCM, but that he sees it as a “framework” through which to build a bespoke bill for NI.

    “The proposed Environment Bill goes some way towards addressing the environmental governance gap that our exit from the European Union exposes,” he says.

    John Blair
  18. 'Insufficient scrutiny and insufficient time'

    The minister's DUP colleague, William Irwin (below), is another member of the Agriculture Committee.

    He says it's "essentially enabling legislation".

    Mr Irwin says he noted the minister literally paddled his own canoe the other day to demonstrate his interest in preserving the environment.

    William Irwin

    The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole says the members are once again being asked to debate the subject with "insufficient scrutiny and insufficient time".

    He says the bill shows "a lack of ambition" with regard to environmental protection in Northern Ireland.

  19. 'A stand alone, bespoke environmental bill'

    Philip McGuigan

    Sinn Féin’s Philip McGuigan is the deputy chairperson of the Agriculture Committee.

    He says the bill aims to “provide a new framework” in light of Brexit for agriculture governance and aims to provide to environmental improvement.

    Mr McGuigan says the committee had little time to consider the bill and outlines the committee’s scrutiny approach.

    The MLA says the committee recommends a “standalone, bespoke environmental bill for the north” and that there was no consensus, but that the committee recommends that a “sunset clause” should be included in the bill for the provisions relating to NI.

    “The north should act as an exemplar,” says the MLA.

    He runs through the clauses in the bill which the committee raised concerns about.

  20. The Environment Bill

    On to the next item of business.a legislative consent motion (LCM) on the Environment Bill.

    An LCM allows the Westminster parliament make laws for Northern Ireland on devolved matters.

    Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots opens the debate, explaining that most of the clauses of the bill applying to Northern Ireland require the assembly's assent.

    Edwin Poots

    Some parts of the bill result from EU withdrawal, whilst others lay down the Westminster government's 25-year plan for the environment.

    He says that normally he would prefer to have legislation specifically prepared for Northern Ireland but there simply isn't the time "before the end of the transition period".

    There are 17 clauses for which approval is sought, Mr Poots explains, before listing their contents.