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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Stormont

    That’s all from us this afternoon.

    We’ll be back at the assembly tomorrow morning to bring you live coverage of the Economy Committee, where MLAs will be hearing about the High Street Voucher Scheme due to be rolled out in NI.

    Until then, have a great evening.

  2. 'Give businesses some protection from the continued impact of the pandemic'

    Caoimhe Archibald is the chair of the Economy Committee.

    She says members agreed to the statutory rule and supports the motion today.

    As Sinn Féin economy spokesperson, Dr Archibald says the “extension of the date will give businesses some protection from the continued impact of the pandemic”.

    Caoimhe Archibald

    “Covid has had a longer and deeper effect than many had originally anticipated and it’s right that we take account of that in giving breathing space for our businesses,” says Christopher Stalford of the DUP.

    Diane Dodds winds on the motion and says “it’s important we allow businesses time and space to become profitable and trade through these very difficult circumstances”.

    The economy minister says she hopes “progress continues” with more of the economy being able to reopen.

    There aren't enough MLAs in the chamber to make up a quorum for a vote.

    Deputy Speaker Patsy McGlone gets the clerk to ring the division bell and once there are enough members present the amendment passes on an oral vote.

  3. Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 debate

    Diane Dodds

    Economy Minister Diane Dodds is on her feet in the chamber to open the debate on amendments to the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020.

    She says the Covid-19 restrictions were imposed to restrict the spread of Covid-19, but which could “seriously impact on the viability of businesses”.

    Modifications to the corporate insolvency and government act regulations are needed to ensure businesses can survive, says Mrs Dodds.

    Today,she’s seeking MLAs to approve three temporary extensions.

  4. Five points you need to know from Agriculture Question Time

    Here are some key issues raised during Question Time with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots:

    • Edwin Poots says the current estimation is that when the NI Protocol grace periods end there will be 15,000 checks “per week” at NI’s ports
    • Minister Poots says he intends to “lodge judicial proceedings against the protocol” when he receives more advice from a QC who is examining its legality
    • There’s a need to ensure sufficient mental-health support is available for rural communities
    • “NI does not pose a threat to the EU single market,” says Mr Poots
    • While there hasn’t been an update on the UK shared prosperity fund, the minister says he’ll welcome the support when it appears
  5. A common UK-EU SPS area

    Stewart Dickson of Alliance asks Edwin Poots "to outline what engagement he has had with the UK Government on a veterinary agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union".

    The minister responds that he's "firmly opposed" to the arrangement that NI must continue adhere to checks on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules in alignment with the EU.

    He wants to see the rules removed entirely.

    Mr Poots says the establishment of a common SPS area could assist in the movement of live animals and agri-food products.

  6. Minister 'absolutely appalled' by Tyrone fish kill

    Paula Bradley

    The minister's DUP colleague Paula Bradley asks "what is currently being done to support farmers' mental well-being"

    Mr Poots says DAERA (Agriculture Department) currently funds the rural charity Farm Family Health Checks programme and the Spring Social Prescribing Project "which supports mental wellbeing in farming communities".

    He outlines the work undertaken by these projects.

    Ms Bradley asks about support for women in the farming community.

    Mr Poots says women often "keep the show on the road" on farms and "face immense pressures".

    Nicola Brogan of Sinn Féin asks what action the minister's department will be taking following the incident in which thousands of fish were killed in a pollution incident on the Aughlish River in County Tyrone.

    Mr Poots says he is "absolutely appalled" by the incident.

    He says the department will identify the person responsible for causing the pollution and will take them to court.

  7. 'No desire to hold the position of first minster'

    Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is next to take questions from the members.

    SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone asks "for an update on the completion date of point of entry facilities as part of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland".

    Mr Poots says the UK Withdrawal Agreement, which the includes the protocol, was "an agreement made by the UK and EU not supported by any unionist party in NI and runs contrary to the Belfast Agreement, 1998".

    "Ultimately the protocol needs to go," he says.

    Mr McGlone asks what compensation has been paid to contractors working on the facilities.

    The minister says he has taken no role in that.

    "We'd do better to have no new buildings constructed," he says.

    Edwin Poots

    Stewart Dickson of Alliance asks the minister what his plan and timescale for the removal of the protocol would be "given the possibility that you're likely to end up as first minister".

    "I think I've indicated that I've got no desire to hold that position," says Mr Poots before reiterating his opposition to the protocol.

  8. Five points you need to know from Executive Office Question Time

    Here are five key points raised during Question Time with the deputy first minister:

    • “There is no room, no scope, no role for paramilitary or organised crime gangs in this society," says Junior Minister Declan Kearney
    • "A huge amount of work" is required to rebuild the tourism and hospitality sectors, says Ms O'Neill
    • The deputy first minister expects to see discussion within the executive around travel within the Common Travel Area
  9. 'There can't be any slippage from the NDNA commitments'

    Time for Topical Questions - a 15 minute slot where MLAs can ask ministers about anything which falls within their remit.

    Órlaithí Flynn of Sinn Féin talks about the commitments made in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA), and wants to know the deputy first minister’s views on working with a new incoming first minister to “honour” these.

    It comes after Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, announced her resignation last week following the circulation of a letter of no-confidence within her party.

    Michelle O'Neill

    Michelle O’Neill responds that "there cant be any slippage from the commitments made in that deal”.

    She puts on record her “very best to Arlene in her future” and “whatever that brings for you”.

    Ms O’Neill adds that she is determined “to work closely with the incoming minister”.

    “They should be in no doubt of my determination to ensure that delivery of outstanding commitment, particularly where citizens rights are yet to be delivered in respect of language, culture, legacy and women’s health care,” says Ms O’Neill.

  10. 'An unhelpful and grossly inaccurate media report'

    Mark Durkan of the SDLP wants to know “whether the reported £10m for the Communities in Transition Project is additional money or an existing funding allocation”.

    Declan Kearney takes the question.

    “After some disappointing and erroneous reporting about the Communities in Transition project” he outlines the main aims of the programme.

    “In stark contrast to one unhelpful and grossly inaccurate media report, it is not designed to assist paramilitary and criminal organisations to become community organisations,” says the Sinn Féin junior minister.

  11. 'There’s not necessarily been a good joined-up approach'

    What consultation has there been between the Executive Office, the Covid-19 Task Force and local councils to ensure a consistent approach to the reopening of hospitality venues?

    That’s the question from Jonathan Buckley of the DUP.

    Michelle O’Neill, the deputy First Minister, says “there’s not necessarily been a good joined-up approach across council areas”.

    She says the junior minsters are trying to bring the council leaders together to address some of the issues.

    “It’s so important there isn’t a blade of grass in terms of the difference of approach,” says Ms O’Neill.

    Jonathan Buckley

    Pat Catney of the SDLP wants more info on what the task force is “trying to do in order to keep businesses afloat and open”.

    Ms O’Neill runs through some of the relaxations brought in by the executive, as well as those still to come.

    She adds that the aim is to “continue to engage with the sector”.

    “We want to see people back in their place of employment, and we want to see people back out and about and enjoying themselves.”

  12. 'I won’t take lectures from you'

    Christopher Stalford of the DUP asks the junior minister for his views on the naming of “constituency offices after those who have engaged in criminal acts”.

    Declan Kearney responds that “we need to speak with one consistent united voice in opposition to all forms of violence, terror, paramilitarism, criminality and organised crime in our society”.

    He adds that “Sinn Féin will not be found wanting” to ensure the programme is delivered.

    Declan Kearney

    Jim Allister of the TUV reiterates Mr Stalford’s point and refers to a specific Sinn Féin MP’s constituency office.

    “So long as there’s glorification of terrorism, it will be noting but cant and hypocrisy to talk about tackling paramilitarism,” says Mr Allister.

    “I won’t take lectures from you or your ilk in relation to these matters,” responds Mr Kearney.

  13. 'Paying-off paramilitaries?'

    Ulster Unionist John Stewart wants an update on the Executive Office’s work in tackling paramilitary activity.

    Declan Kearney, the Sinn Féin Junior Minister, answers the question.

    He says a “significant amount of good work has emerged to date” through the Communities in Transition Project.

    John Stewart

    Will the policy of “paying-off paramilitaries” cease, asks Mr Stewart.

    Mr Kearney says he doesn’t accept that is an accurate characterisation of the programme.

    “There is no room, no scope, no role for paramilitary or organised crime gangs in this society,” he adds.

  14. 'We have been afforded special status'

    Michelle O’Neill, the Deputy First Minister, is answering questions on behalf of the Executive Office today.

    Her first question comes from Matthew O’Toole of the SDLP.

    He asks about Brexit and the NI Protocol, and raises concerns of some investors following scenes of rioting in some towns across NI.

    “What is the Executive Office doing to reassure investors?”

    Michelle O’Neill says there is an onus on all politicians to resolve issues on the ground.

    Michelle O'Neill

    John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin says “there are opportunities for businesses, but also challenges for businesses”.

    He asks if a no-deal Brexit would have been “devastating” for the economy “across these islands.

    “We have been afforded special status,” responds Ms O’Neill.

  15. Question Time

    Stormont

    We're back from lunch and joining MLAs for Question Time.

    It takes place during plenary sessions every Monday and Tuesday between 14:00-15:30.

    It's an opportunity for members to question ministers about the work of their departments.

    There are two slots during each Question Time session.

    Thirty minutes is spent on Listed Questions, with a further 15 allocated to Topical Questions.

    Today it's the turn of the executive office and agriculture minister.

  16. Plenary suspended for lunch

    Principal Deputy Speaker Christopher Stalford leads MLAs through a vote on the individual amendments to the Covid-19 regulations.

    Each is passed on oral vote.

    In anticipation of a meeting of the business committee at 13:00, Mr Stalford draws the plenary session to a close until 14:00.

    As such, we're off to grab a coffee and a sandwich - but we do hope you'll join us again shortly.

  17. 'The executive should be flexible'

    Gordon Lyons

    Junior Minister Gordon Lyons replies to the debate.

    He notes that questions around outdoor hospitality have been "of great concern".

    The minister says that many business "want to stay within the rules and thought that they were staying within the rules".

    He says the definition of enclosed and substantially enclosed spaces "comes from the smoke-free legislation of 2007".

    Mr Lyons says there is "an issue of messaging" and "I have taken that on board".

    He says he thinks it's something that if possible the executive should be flexible about, adding that this would involve the amendment of regulations.

  18. Last week was a 'fiasco' for hospitality

    Gerry Carroll says the “least the executive can do” is establish “a just pay settlement” for health care workers.

    The People Before Profit MLA says the reopening of hospitality was “a fiasco” last week, with some businesses being told they could not reopen.

    The West Belfast rep says “we need clarity” around “staying local and what that means”.

  19. 'It's because we're in the UK we are so far advanced'

    Wide shot of the chamber

    The TUV's Jim Allister joins others in paying tribute to the vaccinators.

    "It's because we are in the United Kingdom that we are so far advanced," he adds.

    He says he's concerned about the pace easements are progressing at compared the rest of the UK.

    "In NI we always seem to be last in that process," the North Antrim MLA says.

  20. 'It’s a vicious cycle'

    When can spectators “attend Irish League and other sporting occasions?” asks George Robinson of the DUP.

    He puts on record his thanks to those in the health service for their efforts during the pandemic.

    George Robinson

    “Caution has to be the watchword,” says Pat Sheehan.

    The Sinn Féin MLA says it’s a “global pandemic” which “affects the whole world”.

    “When there are more infections, there’s more likely to be more mutations.

    “When there are more mutations there will be more infections.

    “It’s a circular problem, it’s a vicious cycle.”

    The West Belfast rep says he welcomes progress that is being made with the vaccine programme rollout.