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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Stormont

    Steve Aiken wraps-up the meeting.

    That's all from Stormont today.

    We'll be back at 08:45 in the morning with live coverage of the Health Committee - MLAs will be joined by the Health Minister Robin Swann, Dr Patricia Donnelly the head of NI's Covid-19 rollout programme and Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride.

    Do join us then.

    In the meantime, stay safe and have a great evening.

  2. 'A shocking read'

    Senate chamber

    The RaIse officials leave the meeting before MLAs discuss the NI Audit Office report on Managing Attendance in Central and Local Government.

    Jim Allister of the TUV says the report is a “shocking read” adding that civil service absence is higher in NI “than anywhere else in the UK”.

    He says there may be exceptions for some cases, but that he believes there is a “culture of sickness absence”.

    Steve Aiken says he believes that the data since the start of the pandemic show “the levels of sickness in civil service and local government have gone down”.

    Jim Wells says he thinks the figure is 31%.

  3. In other news: NI SoS accused of trying to 'scapegoat' Trouble's victims

    Enda McClafferty

    BBC News NI political correspondent

    Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has been accused of trying to "scapegoat" victims for his "inaction" in dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

    The accusation was made by the victims' group, Wave, after Mr Lewis referred to the group in the House of Commons.

    Brandon Lewis

    He claimed Wave asked him to "pause" the engagement around his proposed new legacy plan because of the pandemic.

    But a spokesman for Wave hit out at his remarks. "At no stage did we even remotely suggest that," he said.

    Read more about this story here.

  4. In other news: HMRC to take 'sympathetic' customs approach

    John Campbell

    BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

    Belfast Port

    HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has told businesses trading across the Irish Sea it will take a "sympathetic" approach to new customs rules in January.

    Northern Ireland will leave the EU's customs union at the end of the Brexit transition in January.

    However, it will enforce EU customs rules at its ports, meaning goods coming from Great Britain will need declarations.

    HMRC estimates that will involve 11m declarations a year.

    Read more on this story here.

  5. What is RaISe?

    Colin Pidgeon and Chris Rothwell, who are briefing the committee, are both from RaIse.

    It's the Assembly's Research and Information Service and is made up of a number of subject specialists and library professionals who provide research and information support.

    You’ll find a breakdown of some of the information they provide in this blog.

  6. 'Extremely useful for all of us'

    Steve Aiken the committee chair jumps in for one final point.

    He says the reality is “if England and Wales are doing something we need to have a very good reason not to do it”.

    Fergal Murphy, Kingspan Insulations general manager, responds “while we note that England and Wales did bring forward a ban on combustibles” there are a number of countries that follow “large-scale” fire-safety testing.

    Finance Committee

    Chris Pateman from EPIC picks up on some comments about the insurance industry.

    He says there is a big discussion to be had with insurers about their approach to risk.

    “If we could find ways to bring the insurance industry in as stakeholders at an early stage,” adds Mr Pateman, “that would be extremely useful for all of us”.

    Dr Aiken thanks the panel for attending the meeting.

    The next item of business is a briefing from the research wing of the assembly on how committees can best use data to help them scrutinise budgets.

  7. 'Which of the two tests would be more liable to cheating?'

    Paul Frew

    The DUP's Paul Frew, who is a former electrician, says he understands the two types of test.

    He wants to know which of the two tests would be more liable to frauds and cheating.

    Alan Macklin of Kingspan says he doesn't think they can comment on that, adding it's a matter for independent assessment bodies.

    Mr Macklin says there would be "a very limited opportunity to cheat those tests".

    "There is a limit to how far you can stop people who have chosen to lie in order to gain some kind of commercial advantage from doing so," says Chris Pateman from EPIC.

  8. 'Who tests the testers?'

    SDLP MLA Pat Catney asks “how would this testing be certified” to ensure they are consistent.

    “Who tests the testers?”

    Alan Mackin from Kingspan Insulation says those who carry out tests are accredited by a regulatory body, UKAS (UK's National Accreditation Body), which oversees test facilities and ensures they meet standards.

    Pat Catney

    Is there a big difference in the price of materials based on their combustibility classification asks Mr Catney.

    “We have no details or studies in relation to the cost differences,” responds Fergal Murphy, the general manager of Kingspan Insulation.

  9. In other news: 'An absolute disgrace' Rea not a SPOTY nominee, says Foster

    The first minister says she won't be watching this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards as motorcyclist Jonathan Rea has missed out on shortlist once again.

    The decision to omit Mr Rea comes off the back of a record-breaking six consecutive World Superbike wins.

    The motorcyclist, from Larne, County Antrim, finished runner-up in the 2017 competition, just 3,000 votes behind runner Sir Mo Farah.

    Arlene Foster said it was "an absolute disgrace" that Mr Rea was not included in this year's final.

    Jonathan Rea

    Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, the DUP leader said she will not be watching the programme this year "because, for me, Jonathan Rea is the Sports Personality of the Year".

    The matter also made it to the House of Commons proceedings on Wednesday with DUP MP Paul Girvan raising it to Minister of State Robin Walker.

    Read more about this story here.

  10. 'We would suggest that this was a political decision'

    Steve Aiken

    Committee Chair Steve Aiken says one of the questions to be considered is why England and Wales "have decided to go against this approach" and opt for laboratory testing.

    There is a pause and Chris Pateman from EPIC says: "Firstly, I'd say Scotland hasn't".

    Further pressed by Dr Aiken, the witness says:

    "If you were the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in the wake of something like the Grenfell disaster you would feel that you needed to make some kind of action which demonstrated that the government was firmly in control of the situation."

    "We would suggest that this was a political decision rather than fundamentally an engineering decision," Mr Pateman adds.

  11. 'Diluted down to combustible vs non-combustability'

    Philip McGuigan says “surely it’s up to industry to work to ensure the materials individually, and collectively, are non combustible” rather than “arguing for testing that may or may not be practical”.

    Alan Macklin of Kingspan Insulation responds to the point.

    He says a good way of testing is on a large-scale basis.

    Philip McGuigan

    “It’s regrettable that the discussion and the narrative around fire safety has almost been diluted down to combustible versus non-combustibility,” he adds.

    Mr Macklin outlines some the “detail” behind small-scale testing.

  12. 'K15 is, and was, safe for use within compliant systems'

    Jim Allister of the TUV directs his questions at the Kingspan Insulation representatives.

    “I want to press you further on the credibility of you telling us that you are devoted to large-scale testing in light of the quite shocking evidence this week to the Grenfell inquiry,” he says.

    Fergal Murphy responds that Kingspan Insulation “is confident that K15 is, and was, safe for use within compliant systems”.

    Jim Allister

    He adds that the company “has noted the historical shortcomings of what has happened and we have offered, and do offer, a full and sincere apology for them”.

    “We have made substantial changes to ensure they cannot be repeated,” says Mr Murphy.

  13. 'Kingspan has acknowledged that there were shortcomings'

    Maolíosa McHugh of Sinn Féin asks what the ramifications would be for Kingspan in the event of a engineered panel ban.

    "We don't have any specifics conducted in relation to our own company", says Fergal Murphy.

    Mr McHugh suggests that if combustible materials are banned, the companies could "repurpose themselves" to produce non-combustible materials "here in Ireland".

    Mr Murphy says the test intended to indicate whether a product is combustible or non-combustible "doesn't necessarily represent the most appropriate way to measure large-scale performance of a building".

    Maolíosa McHugh

    Mr McHugh says the product that was used in Grenfell "was marketed as safe to use".

    He says Kingspan claimed the material had passed a safety test.

    "It now turns out that this wasn't true and that the product had actually failed the fire test in 2007," the Sinn Féin MLA says.

    Mr McHugh says there is an inconsistency in Kingspan calls for increased testing while the company has products that failed safety tests "and have ignored those very same tests".

    "Neither I, nor Alan, are personally involved in assisting the inquiry in its work," says Fergal Murphy.

    "Kingspan has acknowledged that there were shortcomings and has apologised for the shortcomings."

    He says the company has set out new systems in terms of the traceability of the product and incorporated new fire testing.

    "Kingspan would not have recommended that product for use in that application," Mr Murphy says.

  14. 'Not a question of whether the requirement was adequate'

    “We as a committee would be hung out to dry if we allow anything to pass through this committee which endangered the lives of those living in high rise buildings in NI,” says Jim Wells.

    The DUP MLA who has had the party whip removed, refers to Grenfell Tower in west London.

    On 14 June 2017, there was a large-scale fire at Grenfell Tower in which 72 people lost their lives.

    Jim Wells

    Jim Wells asks what tests were carried out on cladding that was on Grenfell Tower prior to the fire.

    Chris Patemen of EPIC says “the existing building regulations which were in place” when Grenfell was built, included provisions that “products that are fixed to the outside of buildings should resist a surface spread of flame”.

    He adds “it’s not a question of whether the requirement was adequate, it’s a question of whether the testing regime was appropriately followed”.

    “I can’t comment on the detail of that,” he says, but can refer MLAs to parts of first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry which deals with this issue.

  15. In other news: First NI vaccinations 'to happen next week'

    Health Minister Robin Swann has said the first vaccinations against Covid-19 in Northern Ireland could begin next week.

    The Ulster Hospital is designated as one of seven vaccine points.

    It will facilitate mostly South Eastern Trust staff, but people who live in the area and work for another trust can opt to receive their jab there.

    Vaccine

    The UK is the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for widespread use.

    Minister Swann said it was "a hugely significant day".

    Read more on this story here.

  16. 'Banning products is a sub-optimal solution'

    Chris Pateman

    Chris Pateman of the trade body Engineered Panels in Construction (EPIC) is next.

    "Our point isn't that a ban on combustible materials is necessarily wrong. Our point is that it's not complete," he says.

    Mr Pateman says that banning products is "a sub-optimal solution".

    "Northern Ireland has the opportunity to benefit from the experience of the ban in England," he adds.

  17. 'Tiny samples the size of an Oxo cube'

    Fergal Murphy, the general manager for Kingspan Insulation, begins the brief.

    The company employs 15,000 people worldwide he says.

    Mr Murphy says Kingspan Insulation provides appropriate products and systems

    The Kingspan official turns to some of the building regulation proposals relating to engineered panels.

    He says there is a need for “appropriate, evidence-based performance testing” for buildings, like those set out “by the British Standards” including fire and thermal performance”.

    Fergal Murphy
    Image caption: Fergal Murphy (left) and Alan Mackin (right)

    “The proposed ban, materials would be classified as combustible, non-combustible or limited combustibility based solely on bench-scale tests of individual products using tiny samples the size of an Oxo cube,” says Mr Murphy.

    He says relying on this type of testing “oversimplifies” the “complexity” of the discussion.

    The Kingspan Insulation manager lists a number of countries which follow “large-scale full systems testing”.

    He says “not putting all systems through a large-scale system test is potentially dangerous” for building occupants.

    “Small scale should not be a substitute for large-scale,” adds Mr Murphy.