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Live Reporting

Robin Sheeran and Hannah Gay

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Stormont at night

    The Budget Bill passes its second stage on an oral vote.

    That's all from Stormont for this evening.

    We'll be back at 10:00 tomorrow with live coverage of the Infrastructure Committee.

    In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your evening

  2. Finance minister winds the debate

    Conor Murphy
    Image caption: Conor Murphy

    The Finance Minister Conor Murphy winds on the motion.

    He says that the executive had been promised that they were going to get a multi-annual budget but that was not fulfilled - he adds the executive was then forced to either roll over every department's spend, giving them the same amount as last year, or to go for a reprioritisation approach, which was not possible due to time constraints.

    Mr Murphy adds that with the alternative, being a reprioritisation approach, some departments will get more funding but others will get reduced funds.

    He notes what he says is a trend among SDLP MLAs to call on members not to blame the British government.

    Mr Murphy says it is the British government that decides how much money the executive is assigned.

    He says "we do not have control over these factors and if we did, we might have a different outcome."

    Mr Murphy finishes by saying that he will look for additional funding where he can before the budget is finalised in June.

    He recognises that some issues are vital and need to be looked at again.

  3. Brexit and the budget

    Patsy McGlone

    Patsy McGlone says the SDLP has a number of concerns about the budget allocation for the Department of Agriculture.

    He says the party is concerned about the failure of the budget to address the results of Brexit.

    Mr McGlone says funding has been lost for the Bovine TB campaign and for rural development.

    "That funding has not been replaced in this budget, any additional funding that has been secured from the UK Treasury will instead be used against the cost of the sanitary and phytosanitary process," he adds.

  4. 'Jobstart scheme does not feature'

    Claire Sugden

    Claire Sugden is up next and says that she understands the pressures of creating a new budget, but says there is a lack of clarity and long-term planning in the new draft.

    She wants an outcome-based approach "that focuses on public services rather than public spend."

    Ms Sugden says she is disappointed that labour market interventions have not been included in the bill.

    She says the Jobstart scheme does not feature in the bill, which "does not make sense."

    The independent MLA says it ensures young people income and experience that will lead them into work.

    She says that for every day that the executive does not run this scheme, another young person will leave Northern Ireland and further the brain drain.

  5. Budget has 'spectacularly failed' to deliver on commitments

    Gerry Carroll

    Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit "will be opposing this budget".

    He says it has "spectacularly failed" to deliver on key commitments made after the New Decade, New Approach agreement last year.

    "Nowhere does it offer to seriously eradicate poverty or challenge the growing threat of unemployment across society," Mr Carroll says.

  6. More attention needed to 'life saving' mental health services

    SDLP MLA Cara Hunter is up next and says she hopes next year "brings increased collaboration and partnership with departments to deliver a budget that works for all the people here in Northern Ireland."

    She turns to workforce issues and says that millions of pounds have been paid to agencies to fill workforce gaps in areas such as nursing.

    Cara Hunter

    The East Londonderry MLA adds that she doesn't see any commitment to the safety of health care staff in the new budget..

    Ms Hunter says that the budget does not pay enough attention to the area of mental health.

    She asks the executive to consider the vital service being provided by mental health services which she describes as often "life saving".

  7. 'We need to take heed of the actual figures'

    Jim Allister

    "I think it is increasingly untenable for people to talk about a standstill budget when this budget has arised from the consolidated fund of almost £5bn in just a year," says TUV leader Jim Allister.

    "We need to take heed of what the actual figures speak to us," the North Antrim MLA says.

    He says it is "both sobering and necessary to just reflect on the sheer scale of budgetary amounts that this assembly is blessed to have".

    Mr Allister notes that there is no mention of expenditure on the centenary of Northern Ireland contained within the budget.

  8. People of NI 'short changed'

    Mark Durkan of the SDLP says "it is not good enough to lay all of the blame on the UK government or on the pandemic."

    He says the money that we do have has not been properly allocated or spent and that has been down to lack of planning.

    Of the roadmap out of lockdown, Mr Durkan says that it is imperative that people are not made to choose between feeding their families or following health advice and self-isolating. He says people here are "short changed."

  9. 'We need to urgently rethink our economic priorities'

    Clare Bailey

    Green Party leader Clare Bailey says that "those who can least afford it are suffering and that is to our shame".

    "We need to urgently rethink our economic and fiscal priorities," she adds.

    "On environmental protection we have the lowest spend of all four UK regions," says Ms Bailey.

  10. 'Pandemic has changed the landscape'

    Pat Catney
    Image caption: Pat Catney

    Pat Catney is up next and says he understands the difficulty the finance minister had bringing forward the draft budget, yet it isn't sufficient.

    He says that more details on departmental spending are needed, adding that health spending is predicted to grow by 6% very year.

    Mr Catney says that without proper prioritisation, the New Decade, New Approach document could end up being another "fig leaf document."

    "Budgets will always be tight however, the pandemic has dramatically changed the landscape and approaches we have taken in the past may no longer be effective. New opportunities should be served to better serve the public," he adds.

  11. 'Brexit threat to agriculture'

    Philip McGuigan

    Philip McGuigan is up next.

    The Sinn Féin MLA from North Antrim says that "necessary action to deal with the pandemic has also meant hardship, worry and difficulties for some businesses and employees".

    He says he is regularly contacted by people whose businesses have yet to receive any support from the various schemes.

    Mr McGuigan says Brexit presents a threat to agriculture and rural development.

    He says that if the single farm payment is discontinued post-2022 it "will plunge nearly 25,000 farm families into poverty".

  12. 'Disjointed approach to spending'

    Sinead McLaughlin

    The SDLP's Sinead McLaughlin says "there is a serious disjointed approach to spending" in the budget.

    She says the weakness of schools "is the most pressing of all the challenges facing our economy."

    The Foyle MLA says that far too many school pupils leave without the basic skills and qualifications to get good jobs.

    She asks if the scale of investment going into schools development is "adequate to meet the challenges? Unless the executive finds more funding, then, no, it isn't."

    On climate change, Ms McLaughlin says she doesn't think departments are taking is sufficiently seriously.

    She says there is no commitment to the green new deal and no commitment to bringing our homes to the level of energy efficiency required to work towards cutting carbon emissions.

  13. 'A massive cost and the money is not in the budget'

    Linda Dillon

    Linda Dillon joins by video link and says she won't take up too much time.

    The Sinn Féin MLA wants to talk about the permanent disablement payment scheme, better known as the Troubles pension.

    "The reality is that this is a massive cost and the money is not in the budget," she says.

    Ms Dillon says it is a political battle for the executive to have with the British government and not one for the claimants to have to fight.

  14. 'Significant challenges for the finance minister'

    DUP MLA Robin Newton is up next and says that in the next year, the minister of finance will face "significant challenges."

    He says he doesn't think it is right to blame everything on Tory austerity and that it is the responsibility of the minister of each department to organise effective use of the finances allocated.

    Mr Newton agrees with Pat Sheehan, saying that ministers need to take on accountability and give leadership.

    In relation to the budget, he says there are no targets or goals.

    On education, Mr Newton says that in a survey of teachers, 98% of respondents said that in the last year, their students were an average if three months behind in the curriculum.

    Robin Newton
    Image caption: Robin Newton

    "A big piece of work is to be done in the months ahead," he adds

    The East Belfast MLA says that the return to school programme has to have an agreed route and requires additional funding, where the finance minister should "step up to the plate."

    Mr Newton says that he was asked to attend an informal meeting with a group of special schools' principals.

    He says he came away from it "quite disturbed" about how the teachers were having to work.

    They were working "on a shoe string", Mr Newton says.

  15. 'Getting people back into employment'

    Andrew Muir

    Andrew Muir of Alliance joins the debate by video link.

    Eagle-eyed viewers will have noted the unmistakable clue to his North Down constituency hanging on the wall behind him.

    He says he's disappointed that the budget sets spending limits that are essentially flat.

    Mr Muir says he's also "concerned that there's a lack of detail regarding how the executive will respond to the long-term economic impact of the pandemic, particularly in terms of re-skilling and getting people back into employment".

  16. Education sector 'starved of funding'

    Pat Sheehan

    Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan is the next speaker.

    He commends the finance minister on his allocations to the educational sector, in particular special educational needs and meals for children outside of school terms.

    Mr Sheehan adds that the education sector has been "starved of funding" even prior to the pandemic due to austerity.

    He says that schools and teachers need the necessary resources to restore children's mental health and wellbeing.

    Mr Sheehan says that the education minister needs to make " a serious bid for Covid funding that carries over into the next year. He needs to create a clear and coherent strategy."

  17. Budget Bill debate resumes

    Paul Givan

    The deputy first minister's statement completed, we're returning to the debate on the Budget Bill.

    Justice Committee chair Paul Givan picks up the reins.

    He outlines some of the funding "pressures" facing the department.

    The DUP MLA says responses received from non-departmental agencies, including the Policing Board "make for grim reading".

    He says he has that "as public finances are squeezed at a UK-wide level" he has concerns about what it will mean for the executive.

  18. 'How do we learn to live with the virus?'

    Claire Sugden winds up question time by asking about possible spikes in numbers contracting the virus and new possible variants. She asks the deputy first minister how we are supposed to learn "to live with the virus".

    Ms O'Neill says the executive is working to preempt what potentially will happen in the Autumn, knowing that the virus is seasonal.

    And with that, the question session with the deputy first minister comes to an end.

    The chamber is now returning to debating the Budget Bill that was paused earlier to take the statement from Michelle O'Neill.

  19. 'We shouldn't put all our eggs in the vaccine basket'

    A little while ago Michelle O'Neill tells the assembly that there is no single solution to tackling Covid-19 and that a number of measures are still needed to protect Northern Ireland from the spread of the disease

    "We shouldn't put all our eggs in the vaccine basket," the deputy first minister says.

    "While the vaccine is hugely effective, we don't have evidence to say that it stops the spread of the virus, so we need to have a combination of efforts," she adds.

    Her remarks came in answer to a question from the SDLP's Cara Hunter, who asked about plans to improve the track and trace system.

    Ms O'Neill says she agreed that track, trace and isolate was the best way to target the virus, adding this had been the advice of the World Health Organization from the outset of the pandemic.

    But she explains NI's system is under the remit of the Department of Health and it is their responsibility to bring forward improvements.

    In addition, Ms O'Neill says there was "talk" of developing more testing within schools including lateral flow tests which give quick results.

    "All these things combined will give us the best possible chance of being able to lift all the restrictions," she says.

  20. 'Unsafe workplace conditions'

    Gerry Carroll, of People Before Profit, says there have been issues with "huge restrictions on private lives yet people forced into unsafe workplace conditions".

    He asks for assurances that there will be no repeat of people being made to return to work "when it's unsafe to do so".

    The deputy first minister says no-one should be forced to return to an unsafe workplace and this has been made clear throughout the pandemic.

    "Employers need to be responsible," she adds.