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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for now


    Christopher Stalford says there has been no notice given of any further statements to the Ad Hoc Committee.

    He says the next scheduled plenary session of the assembly is on 21 July and adjourns the committee.

    Could that be the last we see of these emergency meetings?

    We're intending to take a break for the summer, although Stormont is an unpredictable place at the best of times.

    Do take it easy if you get the chance and join us when we're back on the hill.

  2. 'I can’t commit to ring-fencing for venues'

    Green Party MLA Clare Bailey asks the minster for “any indication that we can commit to some sort of ring-fenced financial assistance” to save music venues.

    “I can’t commit to ring-fencing for those venues or any others,” says Ms Ní Chuilín.

    She says if you commits to one at the detriment of the other, there will be the same argument.

    But she adds that she is aware that artists and venues have been hit extremely hard during the pandemic.

    Claire Bailey

    People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll asks about PIP decisions.

    He says people will be aware that many are waiting for appeal dates.

    The West Belfast MLA wants to know how the minister intends to address the backlog.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says the member is right.

    “There does need to be a bit more focus on the appeal stage,” adding that by the time applicants reach that stage a lot of time has passed.

    Gerry Carroll
  3. 'Start to get used to wearing masks'

    Matthew O’Toole of the SDLP is next.

    He says he is wearing a mask today, and while it was “slightly awkward” he says it’s important “we all start to get used to wearing masks”.

    He asks the minister if she is having discussions around making face covering mandatory in areas that are under her department’s control, such as arts venues.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says she has worked with executive colleagues around mandatory face coverings on public transport.

    “We are taking a lead from all our ALBs (Arms Length Bodies)” she adds.

    Matthew O’Toole

    UUP MLA John Stewart says the pandemic has caused particular issues for those who suffer from gambling addiction and wants to know what is her department doing to monitor the activity of problem gamblers.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says “I have no jurisdiction over online,” but she says “particularly during this crisis the evidence and concerns and experience” has been “there has been an increase”.

    She adds “there is a need for regulation” and says “there needs to be greater responsibility”.

    John Stewart
  4. Debt recovery

    Harry Harvey of the DUP asks about the funding for the arts sector and wants to know if it will be spread across different areas.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says a lot of people have concerns this will be Belfast-focused, but she assures the member she will be looking “right across the board”.

    Harry Harvey

    John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin asks about the “debt recovery” that was suspended “during the worst of the crisis” and wants to know how it will be progressed going forward.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says it was suspended “for about 90,000 people for a three-month period”.

    She adds that there were some who wanted to continue their payments, while others couldn’t.

    It was suspended on the basis that it would recommence three days ago, she says.

    John O’Dowd
  5. 'A mixture of pride and shame'

    Sinn Féin's Emma Rogan says ensuring everyone has some form of accommodation during the Covid crisis has been "a major positive step".

    She asks what steps the minister will take to continue this trend in the future.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says, we can say "with a mixture of pride and shame really" that no-one slept on the streets during the pandemic.

    "To be frank, they shouldn't have been there in the first place," she adds.

    The minister says "we need to make that sure there's proper and appropriate accommodation for people".

    Wide shot of the assembly chamber

    Paula Bradshaw of Alliance asks about "the money that was announced from the Treasury for the arts" and if it can be allocated before September.

    "We want to get the money out as soon as we can," says the minister.

  6. 'I did bid for additional money for sports but I didn’t get it'

    UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt asks the minister about funding support for sports during the pandemic. He questions the allocations for arts and heritage compared to sport and leisure.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says the £33m for the arts sector “came as a result of Barnett consequentials”.

    She adds, “if I could split it up within other groups within my department I would, but it’s not the case”.

    “I did bid for additional money for sports but I didn’t get it,” she says.

    Mike Nesbitt

    Gordon Dunne of the DUP says many sports clubs missed out on previous funding which the department issued, and wants to know if more will be able to access it in the next round.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says there were a lot of sports clubs who “remain extremely disappointed” at not being able to access the initial fund, adding she hopes to get more money into those groups as soon as possible.

    Gordon Dunne
  7. Regulating the private rented sector

    Sinn Féin's Cathal Boylan asks about further protections and regulations for the private rented sector

    The minister says it's a priority for her, "both to protect the tenant and the landlord".

    Cathal Boylan

    Sinead McLaughlin of the SDLP says her Foyle constituency has very high levels of economic inactivity, and she asks what she is doing to help those who are unable to work.

    The minister says a lot of face-to-face support for the unemployed was suspended due to the pandemic.

    She says there are many reasons for economic inactivity and the member will be aware of a recent announcement regarding support for apprenticeships.

  8. Anti-poverty strategy

    Sinn Féin’s Jemma Dolan asks the minister for an update on the progress of the anti-proverty strategy she referred to.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says she has spoken with department officials and been part of webinars discussing the issue.

    During those discussions, the minister says the feedback was that “being able to scale up and scale down and help neighbours who are really vulnerable has to be reflected in an anti-poverty strategy, and I would concur with that”.

    Mervyn Storey

    Mervyn Storey of the DUP asks the minister for a breakdown of the £10m that has been spent on food boxes, and he wants to know the geographical breakdown of where they were issues.

    “I don’t have a break down geographically, but I think we need to get one,” says the minister.

  9. 'I don’t want to preempt any announcement coming'

    Kellie Armstrong of Alliance asks the minister about rural areas and the extension of cafés on to the pavement.

    The minister says she is due to meet Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots later today to discuss the issue, and is already working with the Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon.

    In a supplementary question, she asks for clarification on the £2m allocation for sport which the minister referenced and wants to know when it will be announced.

    “I don’t want to preempt any announcement coming,” she says, adding that she would expect it “very, very soon”.

    Kellie Armstrong

    The DUP’s Jonathan Buckley asks about the housing market and the impact the Covid crisis has had on the deposits required for first time buyers.

    He wants to know if the minister will work with other executive colleagues to address the issue.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says this is something she will look at.

    “Some families who had the opportunity to move into a home have now been priced out of it,” she adds.

  10. 'Indicators are that there won’t be remaining money'

    Mark Durkan of the SDLP asks the minister to outline how some of those voluntary groups that fall outside of her department’s funding, can be supported to enable them to continue the work they have undertaken during the pandemic.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says she is currently looking at where additional funding could possibly come from. She adds, “there are groups that have done vital work” that should be supported.

    Mark Durkan

    Andy Allen of the UUP is up next. He asks about the Covid-19 Charities Fund, and says given there was £15.5m allocated initially dedicated towards a charity scheme, does the minister have the flexibility to reprioritise any unspent money from this fund within her department, or will it be repackaged to the charity sector.

    Ms Ní Chuilín replies that it will likely be a “bit of both”.

    She says whatever is left will be reallocated, but adds that the “indicators are that there won’t be remaining money”, in fact she says, the department “might need additional money.

    Andy Allen
  11. 'I'd urge all Belfast council leader to come together'

    Paula Bradley of the DUP gets the first question - she's the chair of the Communities Committee.

    She asks the minister if she's had any discussions with the finance minister about local government finances.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says her officials have been working with the local councils and other executive departments "to ensure that we provide the appropriate and, I suppose, speedy support to councils".

    Ms Bradley asks a follow-up question regarding a statement made by the chief executive of Belfast City.

    "I would urge all council leaders in Belfast City Council despite difficulties, to come together," the minister says.

    Paula Bradley

    Sinéad Ennis of Sinn Féin says the minister alluded to £33m funding for the arts, culture and heritage sector.

    She asks Ms Ní Chuilín to elaborate on how it should be spent.

    "For me the statement was very clear - that it needs to been spent on arts, culture and heritage," says the minister.

    She says she wants to consider artists and musicians "who could not get access to any benefits during this crisis at all".

  12. 'Food remains a critical element of the emergency response'

    Carál Ní Chuilín says she is proud to continue the work started by her party colleague Deirdre Hargey.

    She thanks those in her department and in the voluntary sector who have assisted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The minister says her department received Covid allocation of £88.8m during the June monitoring round and that at this stage in the year, that funding will be “spent in full”.

    She says one early intervention in partnership with Advice NI was the establishment of a free Covid community helpline and says it is still available.

    Ms Ní Chuilín outlines that “face-to-face PIP and DLA assessments” were paused until June as a result of the pandemic, but says this has since been extended and will continue to be reviewed.

    “Access to food remains a critical element of the emergency response,” she says and outlines the programme her department put in place, along with other partners, to provide food boxes.

    She says there were other measures put in place to aid those who had been shielding to access food supplies.

    Carál Ní Chuilín

    The minister references the Covid-19 charities fund which was established and says there have been 180 applications received to date.

    She says 38 grants have been distributed, totalling £643,000.

    Ms Ní Chuilín says there are an additional 340 applications in progress, and as a result she estimates that the total spend will be around £10m.

    Turning to support for the art sector, the minister says she has announced a further £4m.

    “Work is ongoing to assess where this will be best spent,” to aid the recovery of the sector she says, adding that there has been a further £33m announced for the sector from the UK government.

    She then outlines some of the work which had been taken forward by her predecessor Deirdre Hargey in relation to housing executive rent and private tenancies.

    Ms Ní Chuilín turns to the issue of council funding and says she has asked officials to look into how things are shaping in the immediate future.

    “As we move out of the response phase and plan for recovery, it is important we build operational resilience” she says for “any further outbreak of Covid-19”.

  13. Committee opens to the public

    Christopher Stalford

    The Principal Deputy Speaker Christopher Stalford opens the meeting to the public.

    The Ad Hoc Committee consists of all members of the assembly.

    It was set up to allow MLAs to meet in emergency format to hear statements from ministers during the pandemic.

    Mr Stalford welcomes the Minister for Communities Carál Ní Chuilín to the meeting and puts on record his best wishes to her predecessor Deirdre Hargey who has stood aside for medical reasons.

    He then invites the minister to make her statement.

  14. On the Ad Hoc Committee agenda

    NI Assembly
  15. Ad Hoc Committee on the Covid-19 Response

    At this point we're leaving today's meeting of the Health Committee in order to prepare to join the Ad Hoc Committee on the Covid-19 Response.

    Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín will brief the members.

    The committee meets at 13.30. Do join us then.

  16. Data sharing

    Questions are now opened by Colm Gildernew of Sinn Féin.

    He refers to a report suggesting that the “greatest risk” of Covid spread in NI could come from passengers from England.

    Mr Gildernew asks if the executive had to make changes, would they adapt these regulations or create new ones.

    Ms Coglan says “these regulation could be amended to reflect any changes the executive wanted to make if the travellers were coming into NI anywhere outside of that”.

    Mr Gildernew than asks about “data sharing with the south”.

    Ms Coglan replies that for the travel regulations there is no data sharing but adds that if there is any need to “share data for contact tracing purpose there are systems and mechanisms in place to do that”.

    Colm Gildernew

    The DUP’s Pam Cameron asks if someone is aware that a person has travelled from outside the common travel area and are aware that they aren’t self isolating, who should that be reported to?

    Ms Coglan says she understands that there is a mechanism for that.

    Mrs Cameron asks for a follow up on this issue and for clarity to be provided on the mechanism.

  17. 'PHA will have access to the data stored by Home Office'

    Ms Coglan is the chief of staff to the chief medical officer.

    In her opening statement she says the regulations being outlined today are interlinked.

    The travel regulations require a person arriving in NI to self-isolate, provide contact details and information about any onward travel.

    This is in order to prevent the spread of infection, she says, but some people are exempt from the rules, including border staff / flight attendants etc.

    She says the information must be provided by the passenger when they are making the booking, “at the time they check in” and while they are on board a vessel.

    Any operator that fails to comply to the rules may be fined up to £10,000, says the official.

    Elaine Coglan

    The committee previously raised concerns around help for non-English speaking travellers who may struggle to fill out the form.

    Ms Coglan says there is a helpline for those needing assistance with filling out the form, and it is advertised online beside the link to the form.

    “Border Force have also been providing physical help at UK ports of entry” for those who haven’t been aware of the requirement to fill out the form.

    Turning to interaction with the NI track and trace programme with the Public Health Agency (PHA), Ms Coglan says the “PHA will have access to the data which is stored by the Home Office”, if they need contact details for the purposes of contact tracing.

  18. Coronavirus Regulations briefing

    Once the members have returned to their seats, the committee chair moves them to the next item of business.

    Up next, the panel with hear from department official Elaine Colgan.

    She will outline:

    • The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020
    • The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Public Health Advice for Persons Travelling to Northern Ireland) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020
  19. Short break

    The committee chair thanks the panel for attending the meeting.

    Members then discuss some of the key issues which were raised before agreeing to take a short comfort break before the next witness session.

    NI Assembly
  20. UK advice process is 'excellent and very rigorous'

    Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan is on a very poor video link.

    He says there's a shortage of PPE and the vast majority of dental practices won't be able to carry out 95% of routine care.

    Mr Sheehan says he believes "oral health is going to deteriorate".

    Mr Donaldson says that at the moment there is "a significant amount of dental care being provided.

    He says the vast majority of dental care is an AGP, "that's correct", and worldwide the advice is "to try to minimise AGPs".

    On level 2 PPE he says, "We can't source it centrally but we believe there is availability through their own channels".

    Alan Chambers

    The UUP Alan Chambers (above) asks Mr Donaldson to confirm that "following the UK guidance is currently in the best interests of both the practitioners and the citizens of Northern Ireland".

    "I would agree that it's incumbent upon me to follow the best advice and I believe that the UK process for the development of advice is excellent and very rigorous," Mr Donaldson replies.