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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    Stormont

    No doubt a few headlines will emerge from this afternoon's sparky session.

    We'll be back at 10:00 in the morning with live coverage of a meeting of the Justice Committee.

    In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the rest of your day.

  2. Committee agrees to accelerated passage of Bill

    Wide shot of the committee room

    The members turn to other business.

    They discuss the committee's response to the request for accelerated passage for the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill - you may remember the ministers' briefing on this before this afternoon's fireworks.

    The members agree they have no objection to accelerated passage.

    Once they've dealt with some additional minor matters, Colin McGrath draws the meeting to a close.

  3. Chair thanks ministers for contribution to meeting

    Colin McGrath

    Colin McGrath says there has been confusion with the announcements relating to the easing of restrictions.

    He suggests that if the executive were making an announcement it would helpful if a minister could "come to the house” the following Thursday and answer members' questions about what the easements mean.

    Mrs Foster says the executive will take this on board and “will come back to you about that issue”.

    He thanks the ministers for their attendance at the committee this afternoon.

  4. 'I am proud to have laid my comrade to rest yesterday'

    The DUP’s Trevor Clarke joins by audio link. He says it’s “very disappointing to listen to the eulogy from Pat Sheehan to a man, whilst he may have died and been buried yesterday, he was a convicted terrorist”.

    He says social media is “full of pictures from the funeral yesterday” and claims that some of these show around 40 people behind the cortege, which he says would be in breach of the regulations.

    He asks the deputy first minister about “selfies at funerals, are they acceptable”.

    NI Assembly

    Mrs O’Neill responds that the issue has been “well rehearsed” in relation to the funeral that took place yesterday.

    “Trevor, I was always reared never to speak ill of the dead. So I would say to you, you should refrain from trying to go down to personally attack someone who was laid to rest yesterday.”

    She adds, “you can have your own political outlook, but I have a different outlook”.

    The vice-president of Sinn Féin says “I am proud to have laid my comrade to rest yesterday and to be part of that funeral service in so far as reading a poem”.

    “I think that in terms of the issue of selfie, yes absolutely, that was something that happened in the blink of an eye.

    “You know, that shouldn't have happened, I’m absolutely ok to say that,” she says.

    “But everything else, as I said, was done as per, what was in our control, was done within the public health guidance.”

  5. 'Apologise to those families or consider resignation'

    George Robinson of the DUP is on a video link.

    He says he doesn't want to be political but says the scenes at yesterday's funeral, attended by Mrs O'Neill and other Sinn Féin ministers, amounted to "insulting and disgraceful behaviour and a slap in the teeth to all those families and others who adhered to all the strict funeral guidelines".

    Mr Robinson asks the minister to apologise to those families or to consider her resignation.

    "Sorry to have to say that, but I think it is disgraceful what happened yesterday," he adds.

    Mr Robinson also wants to know if the gathering could result in a second wave of Covid infection in that area.

    George Robinson

    Mrs O'Neill says she thinks "we've well-rehearsed this issue" and that "our hearts really go out to" people who lost loved ones in the crisis.

    "In terms of a second wave, we've always said there could potentially be a second wave "and attention is being turned to clusters an tracing," she adds.

  6. 'Community transmission is as low as it’s going to get'

    Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin is up next.

    She says there was a “very haunting video” at the start of the pandemic in County Kerry where people lined the road while a cortege passed.

    Ms Sheerin adds that “big Bob was a legend, and people wanted to pay their respects, but I suppose from our party’s perspective, we were following the regulations”.

    She asks about the recovery and asks the minister to outline the indicative outline of the relaxations “and where we’re going from here”.

    Mrs O’Neill says “in terms of our own recovery plan, that we had got to the point where community transmission is as low as it’s going to get in the absence of a vaccine, so that’s the advice from the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Officer”.

    Emma Sheerin

    She adds that there will be further conversations at the executive on Thursday about what else can be brought forward.

    First Minister Arlene Foster says she was delighted all faiths were represented and consulted on the relaxing of restrictions to access buildings.

    There will be a further discussion about indoor and outdoor gatherings at the executive tomorrow, says Mrs Foster.

  7. 'Shouldn’t be trying to play one funeral against another'

    Independent MLA Trevor Lunn says it was “very hard to look at the pictures of yesterday on stream, on TV or on the news, and conclude that it all complied with the Covid-19 regulations. It just frankly didn’t”.

    “What gets me,” says Mr Lunn, is that there are “so many other funerals” where numbers have been restricted.

    “Do you respect the feelings of people who have had to undergo that sort of trauma when they watch major republican funerals that flout the rules?”

    Trevor Lunn

    Michelle O’Neill says she has sat with many families who lost loved ones during the pandemic, especially during the peak.

    “For anybody that has lost and had to bury their loved one in the height of the crisis and the middle of the pandemic with no support whatsoever, you can never change that,” she says.

    She adds that she is “very sensitive to all those who have lost”.

    “We shouldn’t be trying to play one funeral against another, it’s not about that,” says the deputy first minister.

    “I think we should bring more clarity around funerals if that is what required.”

  8. 'Michelle, you had to be there yesterday'

    Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson says Bobby Storey’s family's “hearts are broke”.

    “Michelle, you had to be there yesterday, the republican family needed you there yesterday,” she says.

    “You gave us comfort and guidance, to the family of Bobby Storey and to the wider republican family.

    “I know that today you have been the subject of a lot of comments and I want to say that I want to thank you on behalf of all of us,” she adds, “because we couldn't have got through yesterday without the support you have given us over this week”.

    “We could not have got through yesterday without your support, and I think that Bobby Storey's family needed you walking with them every step of the journey.”

    Martina Anderson

    Mrs Foster refers to comments made by Sinn Féin MLAs around the table, and says “we could all sit here and reminisce about things that have happened in the past”.

    “We’re supposed to be talking about the Covid-19 regulations and how they have impacted on the people of NI and how we need to make sure we give clear messages out”.

    “The credibility of that message has been severely damaged as a result of what happened yesterday,” she says.

    Mrs Foster outlines that she could not attend that funeral of Charlie Poots (a founding member of the DUP and the Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots’ father) or the funeral of DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson’s father - something she says she wishes she could have done, but did not due to the regulations.

    Arlene Foster
  9. 'Bobby was a remarkable man'

    Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin says since the start of the pandemic, three of his friends have died - and says that Bobby Storey was the third.

    He says “in those three situations, the guidelines were different each time” adding that there had been a move further into the “process of relaxation”.

    “Bobby was a remarkable man, I was with him in the army, I was with him in prison and I was with him in Sinn Féin. When he set his mind to something he never did it half-heartedly.”

    Mr Sheehan says “what’s being missed in all of this” is the role that he says Bobby Storey played in the peace process.

    Pat Sheehan

    The DUP’s Christopher Stalford chips in: “Would we have needed one but for people like Bobby Storey?”

    Pat Sheehan replies: “It wasn’t Bobby Storey who drove himself from his own family home as a teenager.”

    “We were dealt the cards that we got and everybody played the cards that they got,” says Mr Sheehan.

    He adds that he, Bobby Storey or Bobby Sands were not “born into hardcore republican families but we were all affected by the circumstances we were born into”.

  10. 'This is a kick in the teeth'

    The DUP's Christopher Stalford reads a message from one of his constituents.

    "This is a kick in the teeth," he quotes.

    "Why have I given up so much not being able to kiss or hug my mother, to wave at her through a bloody window while she was in Marie Curie and slipping away," Mr Stalford continues.

    The constituent wrote that their mother's "send-off" offended people who could not be there "because of the rules".

    "Was it really so important for you to be at Bobby Storey's funeral?" Mr Stalford asks the minister.

    "Well, yes, it was important for me to be at Bobby Storey's funeral," Mrs O'Neill replies.

    She says she's glad the restrictions now say people can bring 30 people to a funeral and she hopes to get to a place where people have "more freedom to bury their dead in a dignified way".

    Mrs O'Neill says some of Mr Storey's family were unable to walk in the cortege because of the restrictions.

    Christopher Stalford

    "My message to that lady would be to say, very clearly, that I'm sorry that she lost her mother, that we have tried to work our way through this pandemic as best we can, people have been excellent. We are where we are today because of the behaviour of people and I'm so grateful for that."

    Mr Stalford says the minister's credibility "is now shot to bits", adding that he was in hospital recently and his wife and children were not allowed to visit him.

    "Well, that's your viewpoint it's not mine," she replies.

    Mr Stalford asks Mrs O'Neill asks why she walked behind Mr Storey's funeral when family members did not.

    She replies that she is the vice-president of Sinn Féin and "Bobby Storey is a huge republican political figure and icon" and she was there at the invitation of the family.

    Mrs O'Neill rejects the suggestion that it was a paramilitary funeral and says it was "a lovely tribute".

    Mr Stalford reads part of the executive's current guidance on who may attend a funeral.

    "With all due respect I don't think it's for you to decide, or to be any sort of arbiter as to what funeral I may, or may not attend," says Mrs O'Neill.

  11. Charges being levelled are political points scoring - O'Neill

    Michelle O'Neill

    On Wednesday afternoon, Michelle O’Neill was grilled by a Stormont committee over her attendance at a large funeral yesterday.

    She was asked - “Can you discharge the role of joint head of government with any authority after this?”

    “I absolutely can, I can stand over my actions," she said.

    She says she has led from the front and will “continue to lead from the front”.

    “It’s unfortunate that a lot of the charges being levelled towards me are political points scoring as opposed to being about the rules,” she adds.

    Read the full story here.

  12. Storey funeral 'organisers worked with the PSNI around the regulations'

    Colin McGrath

    Colin McGrath, the committee chairperson and SDLP MLA, begins questions and immediately turns to the issue of grief.

    He says people have been asked “across this island” to make “immense sacrifices” to protect others and “I recognise the loss of a friend and a colleague is difficult” but says as political leaders we have a “moral duty” to uphold the regulations and “share in the sacrifice we are asking others to make”.

    He asks the deputy first minister if “reflecting on yesterday”, when she attended the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in west Belfast, “so do you think you can reflect and say that maybe people’s lives were put at risk?”

    Michelle O’Neill replies that “this has been a trying time” for all those who have lost loved ones.

    “I think that you know, where we are today is a good place, we’re making steady progress,” she adds.

    “When I reflect on, obviously yesterday, I laid to rest my friend.

    "He was someone who was obviously a giant in political terms here, he is someone who was so well respected that I had no doubt whenever Bobby died that there was going to be thousands, upon thousands of people that would want to come along to his funeral.

    “And there are things that are within your control, and there are things that are outside your control.

    “So in terms of what’s within your control, I brought in the regulations, so I believe in the regulations, I believe in the public health message, I will continue to articulate the public health message, I will continue to do all of those things."

    Michelle O'Neill

    The Sinn Féin vice president says the funeral was “all done in accordance with public guidance”.

    “The organisers worked with the PSNI around the regulations and restrictions we put in place, particularly around the issue of stewards,” she says.

    “Anybody losing anybody is just such a sad time.

    “I’m satisfied my actions are within the regulations and the public health guidance. My actions, I stand over.”

  13. 'None of us wants to see a second wave of the pandemic'

    Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill says "our number one priority has been the delivery of a comprehensive response to protect people, to support those who are facing hardship as a result of the lockdown measures that have been needed".

    The minister says this has required "a huge effort from everybody involved".

    She says "a key turning point in the management of the crisis" has been reached with a move to "planning for economic health and societal recovery".

    The deputy first minister says "there is now clarity for every sector" on how they can restart and reopen".

    Michelle O'Neill

    "None of us wants to see a second wave of the pandemic," she says, adding that the executive will be keeping the changes under review.

    "It's important that we all recognise that recovery and the application of public health guidance go hand-in-hand," Mrs Foster says.

    She says it's vital that businesses and individuals "take the necessary actions that are required to protect us and limit the spread of coronavirus".

  14. 'A testament to all that is good in our society'

    Colin McGrath, the Committee Chair, moves the committee to a briefing on Covid-19.

    He invites the first minister to deliver her opening statement.

    “A lot has happened in the six weeks when we were last here,” says Arlene Foster.

    “The battle is far from over and we cannot drop our guard for a moment when it comes to keeping people safe,” says the first minister.

    Mrs Foster says “we have learned a great deal and I think we have come a long way in a short period”.

    “We can be very proud as a society of how we have responded to the crisis,” she adds.

    Arlene Foster

    "The resilience of our communities, and the willingness of local people to do their bit in helping to overcome all of the challenges is really inspiring and is a testament to all that is good in our society.”

    Mrs Foster says the assembly has played a constructive part during the crisis, including by continuing to sit.

    Turning to the regulations over Covid, Mrs Foster says they have now been changed eight times.

    “The test was were they necessary and were they proportionate to the threat posed by Covid-19,” says Mrs Foster in relation to the introduction of the regulations.

  15. Delays in planning applications

    The committee chairperson Colin McGrath (below) turns to questions on the bill. He wants to know the timeline and whether it will “all go through next Monday”.

    Arlene Foster says she thinks the first and second stages are next Monday.

    Michelle O’Neill says the executive has written to the speaker and therefore it will be at his discretion as to how it is handled.

    Independent MLA Trevor Lunn says this will “bring it back to the minister for infrastructure to make a decision” and asks if could still be appealed on normal planning grounds?

    Mrs Foster says that is the case.

    Colin McGrath

    Pat Sheehan of Sinn Féin asks are there still circumstances in which a planning decision would be called into the executive.

    Mrs Foster says “we still have the right under this legislation to pull decisions in if they are significant or controversial, if three or more ministers believe it needs to be brought in”.

    Martina Anderson, Mr Sheehan’s party colleague, says there have been concerns over the delay in planning applications.

    Mrs O’Neill says “as we try to rebuild the economy,” there is a need to be “flexible”.

  16. Executive Committee (Functions) Bill

    Arlene Foster (below) gives a briefing on the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill.

    This arises partly from a planning appeal regarding a waste incinerator.

    She says it's designed to avoid the risk of future legal challenges.

    "We wanted to deal with it right across government and not just in terms of the Department for Infrastructure, so that's why it's an Executive Office bill," Mrs Foster explains.

    Arlene Foster

    She further explains that the bill needs to proceed by accelerated passage as the minister for infrastructure is currently unable to make planning decisions that there may be a challenge to.

    The first minister says there's a need for capital projects to begin as part of the recovery following Covid-19.

    Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill says that normally they would want the bill "to follow its normal procedure" but it's "really, really important" to get the bill enacted before the end of July.

  17. On the agenda for the Committee for the Executive Office

    NI Assembly
  18. Committee for the Executive Office opens to the public

    NI ASSEMBLY

    The committee chaipersonr, Colin McGrath of the SDLP, opens the meeting to the public.

    He runs through some brief business, before welcoming the first and deputy first ministers.

    Arlene Foster (DUP) and Michelle O'Neill (Sinn Féin) are both seated at separate tables at the back of the room, in keeping with guidance on social distancing.

    They're here to discuss the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill as well as answering questions on the "Executive Office and executive’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic".

  19. Break for lunch

    That concludes the morning sitting of the assembly, but there'll be plenty more action from 14:00 when the first and deputy first ministers will appear before the Committee for the Executive Office to discuss Covid-19.

    We look forward to seeing you then.

  20. Committee concludes

    Michelle McIlveen

    Michelle McIlveen, the committee chairperson, thanks the panel for their contribution to today’s meeting and for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    She moves to the next item of business, which is a brief discussion on a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) relating to the Business and Planning Bill.

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

    The committee is made aware there will be an assembly debate on the LCM in the chamber on Monday.

    Miss McIlveen winds up the meeting and reminds members to maintain social distancing.