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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good afternoon

    After a brief discussion about committee correspondence, committee chair Paul Givan adjourns the meeting.

    That’s all from us this week at the assembly, however you can get your political fix later this evening with BBC’s The View.

    Stormont

    It’ll be on BBC One Northern Ireland at the usual time of 22:45, and will be followed by Question Time, which will feature the first and deputy first ministers.

    We’ll be back on Monday with more from Stormont.

    Until then, have a great weekend and stay safe.

  2. UUP calls on GAA to boost Casement Park stadium funding

    Casement

    The Ulster Unionist Party has called on the GAA to increase its contribution to the building of a new stadium at Casement Park in west Belfast.

    No agreement has yet been reached on the payment plan for the project, which is expected to cost at least £110m.

    The initial cost of the project was estimated at £77.5m, with the GAA agreeing to pay £15m of the total.

    However, a series of delays has led to an increase in cost, with at least £32.5m extra now required.

    Read more on this story here.

  3. Joe Biden 'will be a good friend to us'

    Michelle O'Neill

    The new American president "will be a good friend to us", Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill has said.

    Speaking to Nick Robinson's Political Thinking, she said Joe Biden often emphasised his links to Ireland and shared Sinn Féin's view of Brexit.

    She described Brexit as "dire" and restated her ambition for a poll on Irish unity within the decade.

    In recent weeks, food supplies to Northern Ireland have been disrupted.

    Read more on this story here.

  4. Committee content with principles of Protection from Stalking Bill

    Paul Givan

    Paul Givan thanks the officials, and the members vote to express their contentment with the principles of the Protection from Stalking Bill.

    We'll hear about it again when it pops up in the assembly for its second reading.

    Mr Givan then takes the members through some additional committee business.

  5. 'Culture of indifference' displayed by Finance Department

    Stormont

    Officials at the Department of Finance displayed "a culture of indifference" about protecting public money, a Stormont committee has said.

    The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigated the department's handling of online services contracts with BT.

    It found that contract extensions increased payments to the company by more than £120m.

    The department said additional sums paid to the telecoms giant were for additional services and projects.

    Read more on this story here.

  6. 'This sort of behaviour can morph'

    Rachel Woods asks about a part of the bill that refers to “loitering in any place, either public or private”.

    It’s included in the Scottish legislation, she says, and wants more clarity about it “and its functions”.

    The Green Party MLA says there is “an absence of a legal definition of stalking”.

    Rachel Woods

    Is that a gap?

    “It’s been very hard to establish a legal definition,” responds Grzymek.

    He says the department would be happy to adopt one if there is one.

    “Given that this sort of behaviour can morph” he says, trying to cover “all aspects is problematic”.

    There's no age range in the bill, so would it be applicable to anyone over the age of criminal responsbility, asks Ms Woods.

    "Yes," replies the department official.

  7. What should you do if you're being stalked?

    Clare Elcombe Webber, who's in charge of the National Stalking Helpline, has advice for people worried they're being stalked:

    1. Talk to someone

    "The most important thing is to tell someone. Stalking thrives on secrecy - if nobody knows what's going on that gives the stalker the opportunity to keep on going. Whereas if people know they can do things to keep you safe and they can take power away from the stalker."

    2. Record what's happening

    "Keep a log of any events or contact, any evidence you might have. It helps victims themselves understand there's a pattern of behaviour. Also if they do want to go to the police or take any formal action it gives people a really clear picture of what's been going on."

    3. Take digital safety seriously

    "About 40% of people who contact us have experienced some kind of cyber stalking. Not only the individual but also their friends and family - so all their social media is as secure as it possibly can be. They don't let people post pictures of them or check them in to places, for example."

    4. Vary your routine

    "Talk to schools, places of work, colleges - make sure people are aware there may be a problem. That helps other people actively keep you safe as well."

    5. Call the police

    "If at any point somebody feels unsafe for any reason they need to be calling 999. We want the police to be on board in these situations and on board as early as possible. We know that the sooner there's some kind of formal intervention the sooner it's likely to stop. We know that stalkers don't generally stop on their own."

    You can read more here.

  8. Convictions based 'exclusively online behaviour'?

    Sinéad Bradley

    Sinéad Bradley is concerned about the distinction between online trolling and stalking.

    The SDLP MLA wants to know if it would be possible to have a successful conviction "based on exclusively online behaviour".

    "I think the answer should be 'yes'," says Mr Grzymek.

    His colleague Barbara Compston says the police will have to look at all online stalking.

  9. What are stalking protection orders?

    Jemma Dolan of Sinn Féin wants more information about stalking protection orders.

    Barbara Compston, who is from the Justice Department, takes the question.

    These can have "prohibitions" says the official, and gives the example of a defendant being prohibited "from visiting a certain area where their victim lives,” she says.

    They could also “be asked to go for a mental health assessment” or attend a perpetrator programme, adds Ms Compston.

    Jemma Dolan

    The official says many people who responded to the justice consultation were keen to see such orders included in the legislation.

    Do other jurisdictions have these types of orders?

    England and Wales brought them in a year ago, says Ms Compston.

    “On they whole,” she says “they have been welcomed and are working”.

  10. NI lockdown could be in place 'until Easter'

    Enda McClafferty

    BBC News NI political correspondent

    cafe closed sign

    Stormont ministers have been told lockdown restrictions in NI may remain in place until after Easter holidays, BBC News NI understands.

    Health Minister Robin Swann has recommended extending the current restrictions until 5 March, with a review date on 18 February.

    The minister has also suggested in paper issued today, that it is "possible" that further extensions will be required beyond that - potentially around the Easter holidays which fall in the first week of April.

    BBC NI understands this plan is currently being discussed by the four nations.

    It is thought ministers will delay any further decisions around extensions until next month, however there are warnings that restrictions will be eased on a step-by-step basis.

    Read more on this story here.

  11. 'Gender breakdown of stalking victims'

    Emma Rogan

    Emma Rogan asks for a gender breakdown of stalking victims.

    The Sinn Féin MLA asks if consideration has been given to a stalking register.

    "Our expectation is the vast majority of people who are stalked are actually female," says Brian Grzymek, although there is a minority of males who experience it.

    The official says the department spoke to stakeholders, the police and others.

    "By and large this was not an issue which was brought to us," he says.

  12. 'Innocuous behaviours which don't look threatening'

    “For many years, when we as politicians were pushing for a stalking legislative piece, the department always said we’re covered by harassment,” says Paul Frew.

    The DUP MLA says the officials have “hit the nail on the head” in resolving this issue through their previous answers to committee colleagues.

    Mr Frew says the bill is “descriptive” and asks why is the reasonable test included in the bill a sub section and “not an umbrella”.

    Brian Grzymek from the Justice Department says “we noted from victims that their concern was that quite often there are quite innocuous behaviours” that don't necessarily “look threatening”.

    Paul Frew

    The department official provides the example of someone sending someone flowers every day for a prolonged period of time.

    He says over time, such behaviours could become “quite damaging” to those on the receiving end”.

  13. Training and a publicity campaign on stalking

    Linda Dillon

    Sinn Féin's Linda Dillon is the deputy chair of the committee.

    She asks about plans for training in connection with the offence, and if there are any plans for a campaign to ensure that the public understands what stalking is.

    Brian Grzymek says the department has been engaged with the police in the development of the legislation and the importance of training has been recognised.

    He says there are no plans yet for a campaign but "awareness will be very important".

  14. Ensure behaviours are 'appropriately recognised'

    Paul Givan

    Committee Chair Paul Givan moves straight to questions.

    He says “unlike the Domestic Abuse Bill” this bill “lists behaviours”.

    The DUP MLA wants more information about why behaviours have been specified.

    Brian Grzymek says the department took advice from other jurisdictions about their legislation and how it works.

    “We felt it was important to set out those behaviours in the legislation to ensure they were appropriately recognised,” adds the official.

  15. 'Fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour'

    Committee in chamber

    Department of Justice official Brian Grzymek begins the briefing on the bill.

    He says it consists of 20 clauses, is divided into three parts and creates a specific offence of stalking.

    "Stalking is fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour," he explains.

    It also creates an offence of "threatening and abusive behaviour, which can be triggered by a single incident".

    This bill would see "stronger and more appropriate" penalties than are available under the current legislation.

    The bill also introduces stalking protection orders.

    "These will be a key tool for police," says Mr Grzymek, allowing them to disrupt stalking behaviours "before they become entrenched or escalate in severity".

  16. Peat landslide had 'significant' impact on Tyrone river

    Stephen Walker

    BBC News NI Political Correspondent

    A peat bog collapse in County Donegal in November has had a "significant effect" on a large stretch of a County Tyrone river.

    John McCartney, from the Loughs Agency, said it may be the spring of this year before the full picture emerges.

    The agency is one of a number of bodies investigating the incident near Ballybofey.

    Last year, a large quantity of peat slid down the hillside and ended up in the Mourne Beg river which is an internationally-recognised salmon spawning waterway.

    river

    Loughs Agency official, John McCartney, described the event as "catastrophic", and would effect a number of miles on the river.

    He said the full picture may only emerge in Spring 2021 and that the incident was under "criminal investigation".

    Read more on this story here.

  17. Technical problem

    We have a technical problem bringing you the video from the committee at the moment.

    The video will be restored as soon as we can sort it out.

  18. Committee opens to public

    Paul Givan, the Committee Chair, opens the meeting to the public and brings members to order.

    MLAs discuss some items of committee business before getting stuck into the bones of today's session - it's a briefing on the Protection from Stalking Bill.

    Officials from the department leading the session include:

    • Brian Grzymek, DoJ
    • Andrew Laverty, DoJ
    • Barbara Compston, DoJ
  19. What's on the Justice Committee agenda?

    We're back from lunch and joining the Justice Committee.

    They're being briefed on the principles behind the Protection from Stalking Bill.

    NI Assembly