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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Stormont

    That concludes today's live coverage from the house on the hill.

    Only one more sleep until the assembly wraps up for Christmas recess.

    We'll be back in the morning with live coverage of its final sitting, beginning with the agriculture committee.

    In the afternoon, we'll be joining the ad hoc committee on a bill of human rights.

    Until then, have a great evening.

  2. 'Utterly fascinating'

    The witnesses

    Colin McGrath thanks the witnesses for their "utterly fascinating" contributions and he wishes them a happy Christmas.

    The chair moves the members on to the next item of business, a written briefing on the January 2021 Monitoring Round.

    After a final wash-up of committee business and an exchange of festive greetings, Mr McGrath draws the meeting to a close.

  3. 'As of yet, it’s all hypothetical'

    Emma Sheerin

    Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin jumps in after some technical difficulties with her video and audio link.

    She asks about comments Sinéad Gibney made in her brief around issues that should be considered “on an all-island basis” going forward.

    Ms Gibney from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission says “there’s any length of examples we could look at”.

    “As of yet, it’s all hypothetical,” she adds.

  4. 'We need a Bill of Rights here'

    Martina Anderson says that to ensure no diminution of rights, "we need a Bill of Rights here".

    The Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle says: "We don't want a situation here where those of us who are Irish are afforded to keep our EU rights and those of you who identify as British do not."

    She says there seems to have been "more attention being given to the movement of cows and sheep than the movement of you and I in terms of protections".

    Martina Anderson

    She asks about the situation of EU citizens living in NI, "are they protected?"

    Les Allamby explains that if people have applied through the EU settlement scheme "then you should have the same rights as anybody else".

    He says there are potential questions about people who have not applied for it.

  5. 'People of British and unionist persuasion'

    Doug Beattie

    Vice chair of the committee, Doug Beattie is next to jump in to ask questions.

    The UUP MLA talks about people who “view themselves purely as British” and any potential diminution the NI Protocol could have on their rights.

    Is this something the panellists have dug into?

    Geraldine McGahey from the Equality Commission says this has been discussed.

    “I’m very conscious and very mindful of the fact that people of British and unionist persuasion will feel that there is potentially a threat to east-west relationships contained within the current status,” she says.

  6. Health officials send joint letter to care home sector

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI political reporter

    Department of Health officials have issued a joint letter to the care home sector in NI, urging visits for residents to be facilitated over the Christmas period.

    Health Minister Robin Swann previously said "forceful encouragement" could be necessary if some care home do not change their visiting arrangements.

    Current guidance permits one care partner per family to visit once a week.

    Some homes had expressed concerns about that plan.

    Care home

    The letter sent today says as an additional assurance, Covid-19 testing will be made available to one visitor or care partner per care home resident per week, up to 8 January.

    Read more on this story here.

  7. 'It sends out an underwhelming message'

    The committee in session

    Colin McGrath asks about the "aftermath of the Internal Market Bill".

    "Do you think it was an unintended outcome that rights potentially could have been impacted?" the committee chair.

    Les Allamby says that from his view, "it sends out an underwhelming message when you say 'we're prepared to breach international law' even if it's only for a short time in a specified period".

    He says that, from a human rights perspective, "we are pleased to see those clauses that have been removed. The clauses included that you couldn't challenge this bill under specific parts of the Human Rights Act".

  8. 'Vexing the UK government and EU negotiating teams'

    Les Allamby the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner wraps up the brief.

    He talks about concerns around the impact of the withdrawal agreement on the dedicated mechanism.

    The commissions wrote to the government to outline these issues, and Mr Allamby says the response provided “recognition that our worries had potential foundation and I hope have been fully allayed”.

    Les Allamby

    The Ireland / NI Protocol will ensure NI will “keep pace” with “non diminution of rights under the relevant section of the 1998 agreement”.

    Mr Allamby says the issue of “pace with the developments in EU” is one which is “vexing the UK government and EU negotiating teams”.

  9. 'Significant issues which we need to be mindful of'

    Sinéad Gibney

    Sinéad Gibney from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is up next.

    She says there’ll be continuous oversight carried out by the organisations present at today’s meeting.

    Ms Gibney says she met with the tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) and discussed “the forthcoming work of the dedicated mechanism”.

    “There are significant issues which, on an all-island basis, we need to be mindful of,” she adds, and gives a list of examples, including “those accessing cross-border services”.

  10. 'No diminution of rights'

    Geraldine McGahey from the NI Equality Commission picks up the brief.

    She reminds the members that both the NI equality and human rights commissions "have key roles as part of the dedicated mechanism to oversee the implementation of the government's commitment to no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity".

    She says they have been appointing staff, mainly in legal, policy and promotional work.

    Geraldine McGahey

    The body has been raising awareness with government and public bodies, academics and human rights and equality organisations.

    Ms McGahey says the dedicated mechanism "will continue to proactively challenge any measure, including Westminster legislation, that could potentially undermine the commitments to equality and human rights set out in Article 2, Part 1".

  11. Foster: 'Strong guidance' on Christmas Covid rules

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI political reporter

    Christmas tree

    Strong guidance will be issued on Wednesday by London and the devolved governments about how people should celebrate Christmas this year, the first minister has said.

    Arlene Foster was speaking after a call involving Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and leaders from the other governments.

    Mrs Foster said people needed to take "personal responsibility" over the festive period.

    The minister added that there was a need to ensure people were not left alone at Christmas.

    You can read more on this story here.

  12. 'Happy Christmas'

    Colin McGrath

    Colin McGrath, the committee chair, thanks the panelists and wishes them a “Happy Christmas”.

    MLAs take a short break to prepare for their next witness session.

    They’ll be joined by representatives from NI’s human rights and equality commissions.

    • Les Allamby, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
    • Sinéad Gibney, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
    • Geraldine McGahey OBE, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
  13. 'There isn't going to be an EU office with a flag'

    Pat Sheehan

    Pat Sheehan says he's missed quite a lot of the meeting due to technical problems with his video link.

    The Sinn Féin MLA asks about EU customs personnel in NI.

    Dr McCormick says the details are on the UK government website

    "It's a low-key presence. A couple of dozen at most," he says, adding that Department of Agriculture staff would be carrying out the work and EU staff would be monitoring this.

    "What there isn't going to be is an office with a flag and a prominent commission presence," the official explains.

  14. 'Could this still be derailed by a no-deal outcome?'

    “We seem to have gone from pessimism to optimism in the last week, quite seamlessly,” says Trevor Lunn.

    The independent MLA asks “could this still be derailed by a no-deal outcome?”

    Dr McCormick says last Thursday’s “draft decisions” are “holding firm solidly”.

    The Executive Office official adds that they should be approved in the near future.

    Trevor Lunn

    Mr Lunn then asks about “parcel post”.

    The MLA says he purchases some garden plants from online retailers such as Amazon.

    “I take it there shouldn’t really be any change in terms of the supply of live plants, bulbs or seeds coming into NI from the UK?”

    Dr McCormick says “there are legal steps still to be taken but that should take care of some of the points you make, at least in relation to seed”.

    Mr Lunn says he would “rather buy them locally anyway” as he bought 15 strawberry plants online, but 13 of them died.

  15. 'There's going to be a border somewhere'

    Martina Anderson

    Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson says "it is a mess and, unfortunately as a consequence of it, there's going to be a border somewhere".

    She asks about the derogations for SPS products (requiring sanitary and phytosanitary certification), chilled meat and medicines.

    What happens after the deadlines have passed?

    Dr McCormick says each of these is different and he explains the arrangements in some detail.

    Regarding the six-months' grace period for chilled meat products "the documents are silent after that".

    On medicines, the EU regulations will apply at the end of the 12 month period explains the official.

  16. Vets to get £150 a time for export certificates

    John Campbell

    BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

    vet checking cow

    The government will pay vets up to £150 a time for export certificates which will be needed for food products going from GB-NI from January.

    From 1 January, NI will stay in the EU single market for goods, but the rest of the UK will leave.

    Food products arriving in NI from GB will be subject to new documentation and checks, but the changes won't be fully implemented until April.

    An Export Health Certificate (EHC) is central to this process.

    Read more on this story here.

  17. '12 month adjustment period for human and veterinary medicines'

    Doug Beattie is the deputy chair of the committee.

    He wants to “drop into the weeds a bit on some of these issues”.

    What’s the status of animal veterinary products, medications etc as of 1 January 2021?

    Does NI have to abide by EU regulations?

    “There’s a 12 month adjustment period for human and veterinary medicines,” responds Dr Andrew McCormick.

    He adds “our main engagement” has been on human medicines.

    Doug Beattie

    What impact would this have on the Covid vaccine, if any, asks Mr Beattie.

    Dr McCormick says “I don’t think there’s any risk on that at all”.

    The UUP MLA turns to the issue of parcel delivery between GB and NI.

    “This is only one of many areas where there is a lot of adjustment to be done,” says Dr McCormick.

    He adds “the important thing is to keep things as steady and normal as possible”.

    The official says enforcement should be done in a “sensible, graduating way” from 1 January.

  18. 'No time for an assembly process'

    The committee

    The committee chair, Colin McGrath, asks about ratification and work that may need to be done by the assembly before January if a trade agreement is achieved.

    Dr McCormick says it would require ratification by both the UK and the EU.

    He says Westminster could do this quite quickly but "clearly any agreement would have to be confirmed by the member states in the European Council".

    The Executive Office official says there is "a lot of speculation" about how it could proceed through the European Parliament.

    On the Northern Ireland Assembly, he says "there is no time for an assembly process even if that was essential".