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Northern Ireland Assembly
The Northern Ireland Assembly is the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly is the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Assembly's posts

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Our glossary term today is Inquiry

Inquiries are investigations, carried out by Assembly Committees, into problems or issues of concern to the people of Northern Ireland. Committees report their findings to the Assembly. A Committee will advertise its inquiry in newspapers and on the Northern Ireland Assembly website to call for evidence.

You can get involved by making a submission to an Inquiry or by watching the Committees in session.

The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development put out a call for evidence in order to assist it with the scrutiny of the Rural Needs Bill. The closing date for submissions is 12.00pm on Monday 23 November 2015. Find out more:

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Parliament Buildings Illuminated for Armistice Day. Find out more...

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Committee Supports Greater Penalties to Protect Animal Welfare

The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development received a briefing on Tuesday 10 November from Departmental officials on proposed draft amendments to increase penalties for offences under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011.

The Department had recently informed Members that new primary legislation would be required to increase penalties through amendments to the 2011 Act. The Minister has now proposed that the amendments should be brought forward through the Justice No. (2) Bill which will be completed before the end of this Mandate. This will ensure that the legislation is introduced promptly, something of great concern to both the public and animal charities.

Speaking after today’s briefing, Committee Chairperson William Irwin MLA said: “The Committee has long shared the view of a number of stakeholders that much more needs to be done to increase protections to ensure the welfare of animals. Recent high profile cases have reflected that the current Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 is considered by many to be too lenient and does not offer the necessary deterrents.

“Proposals to increase maximum sentencing on summary convictions from six to twelve months and for indictable offences from a current maximum prison term of two to five years will mirror existing legislation in other neighbouring jurisdictions. We believe that this, and the increase on the current maximum fine from £5,000-£20,000, will go a long way towards strengthening the existing Bill and further curbing and discouraging acts of animal cruelty.”

Deputy Chairperson Joe Byrne MLA added: “While the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 has provided a baseline to help tackle issues around animal neglect and cruelty; it has become clear that current penalties and issues around the delivery of enforcement are not strong enough to be as effective as we would like.

“We look forward to seeing the Department’s final Report into its Review of the Implementation of the 2011 Act; as this should provide the necessary information to help us all to ensure that new amendments to the Bill will be comprehensive, robust and fit for purpose.”

#AnimalWelfare #northernireland  

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EU Matters Issue 8/2015

The latest EU Matters newsletter has been published.

The newsletter contains information on the European Commission work programme 2016, refugee crisis, House of Lords EU Reform inquiry, roaming charges, TTIP, finance for small businesses, EU criminal records database, UK demands for EU reform and more...

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Question Time: Enterprise, Trade and Investment Tuesday 10 November 2015

In response to a question from Lord Morrow, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Jonathan Bell described how he plans to create jobs in Northern Ireland over the next five years. Mr Bell said “the Executive’s economic strategy sets out an overarching goal to 2030 to improve the economic competitiveness of the economy through a focus on export-led economic growth, and this will remain our priority going forward.” Our strongest exporting sector is the manufacturing sector (despite the recent bad news about Michelin) and has resulted in the creation of 1800 jobs in the year up until March 2015. The Minister added, “as we look to refocus the economic strategy, we will continue to invest in the key drivers of innovation, research and development and skills in order to create the conditions that will allow businesses in all sectors to grow and prosper.”

In light of the news about the closure of the Michelin plant in Ballymena in 2018, Gordon Lyons MLA asked the Minister what support he will be providing to those workers affected. Mr Bell assured his support and revealed that he has already had discussions with Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, the Mayor and the chief executive of the council to see what they can do and what Invest NI support can be offered to the council. The Minister also acknowledged the work of Michelin management to ensure that work is still available until 2018, giving workers plenty of time to make plans and to leave with a healthy paycheck. The Minister outlined his plan for the future by saying “what we have to do now is reduce our corporation tax, set the date on which we will do that and attract the 30,000-plus new jobs that are available to Northern Ireland.”

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the impact that the EU referendum will have on the local economy, engagement with the Chinese Government, the aborted talks between Bombardier and Airbus, wind energy and energy legislation.

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Question Time: Environment Tuesday 10 November 2015

Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan, outlined the actions he will be taking to increase road safety and address the rising numbers of fatalities and serious injuries on local roads during today’s Question Time. Mr Durkan described the number of road deaths in 2015 as “a serious concern”. So far 61 people have died, compared to 69 at the same stage last year. Despite challenging budget cuts the Minister was able to allocate just over £1 million to road safety communications, grants and educational materials. Despite the regrettable 50% reduction in the road safety budget, the Department continues to take a range of actions to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads focussing on key problem areas such as such as drink-driving, speeding, carelessness and inattention and on groups that are over-represented in the casualty figures. These areas are the key focus of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill currently making its way through the Assembly. Mr Durkan assured that he remains “fully committed to continuing to work with my Executive colleagues, the PSNI and other stakeholders to improve road safety and reduce casualties.”

The Minister then announced a new environment fund that will cover two years (with the possibility of a third) in response to fears that funding may no longer be available after the current cycle of the natural environment fund ends in 2016. Funding will be allocated for the next financial year, 2016-17, with the potential for funding in future years subject to future Budget decisions made by the Executive and Assembly. The Minister described the role of the new fund saying it “will cover the delivery of a wider range of key environmental outcomes under two broad themes: ensuring good habitat quality, landscape and species abundance and diversity; and the promotion of health, well-being, resource efficiency and sustainable economic development, realising the full value of our environment” adding that, “It will provide a more comprehensive, transparent and consistent funding mechanism by which the majority of environmental outcomes can be delivered by third parties under grant aid.”

During Question Time the Minister also fielded queries on planning applications, the cost of local government reform, wind farms, licensing of bonfires and the code of conduct for councillors.

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Glossary Term - 'Final Stage'
Our new glossary series continues with term of the day, ‘Final Stage’

During the Final Stage of a bill, there is no debate on amendments; MLAs simply debate and vote on whether to pass the bill.  
After Final Stage, further checks must be carried out before the bill can receive Royal Assent and become law. Find out more about how a bill becomes law in the Assembly -  
The Final Stage of the Children’s Services Co-operation Bill was debated on 3rd November 2015. 

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Question Time: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister Monday 09 November 2015

Junior Minister Jennifer McCann discussed preparations for the arrival of Syrian refugees to Northern Ireland during today’s Question Time. A commitment has been made to welcome between 50 and 100 refugees by December under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, with the intention of welcoming further groups on a phased basis. Ms McCann added “By taking this approach, we hope to resolve any unforeseen issues that might arise before further refugees arrive. We anticipate that the first group of refugees will arrive before Christmas. They will spend a short period in a welcome centre to provide orientation and prepare them for life here. Initially, they will be placed in temporary accommodation, most likely in the greater Belfast area.” The strategic and operational groups will be considering a range of factors including management for their arrival, translators, health, housing and education requirements as well as the impact on the local community. Local councils will play an essential role in integrating the refugees, preparing communities for new arrivals and ensuring that they are welcomed with dignity and respect.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness then provided the House with an update on Programme for Government 2011-15 targets. The Minister was pleased to reveal that more than 80% of the targets have been achieved – a significant improvement on the 70% success rate in the last Programme for Government. OFMDFM took the lead on 14 of the commitments including the Delivering Social Change framework, the social investment fund and Together: Building a United Community (T:BUC) – “Those projects have brought new, innovative approaches and unprecedented levels of collaboration to bear on tackling the most invidious issues facing our communities” adding “when the First Minister and I published the Programme for Government, we were very clear that it was an ambitious programme aimed at achieving deep and meaningful change in the quality of people’s lives. Our record and delivery demonstrate that that was the right approach.”

Mr McGuinness also answered questions on the victims and survivors severe injury pension, the Community Safety College: Desertcreat and the anti-poverty strategy. During the period for topical questions the deputy First Minister also answered questions on good relations in sport, the sale of NAMA assets, the disability strategy, criminality and paramilitarism.

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Question Time: Employment and Learning Monday 09 November 2015

Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, discussed the impact of the closure of the school of modern languages at Ulster University during today’s Question Time. The Minister explained that the closure of the school was the result of budget cuts imposed on the Department. In making the decision on which courses to cut the University considered a number of factors including student demand, attrition rates, student satisfaction, employment statistics and research performance. The Minister revealed that the demand for the course is low while acknowledging the concerns among business and other stakeholders. The Minister did however discuss the potential for the Department to give consideration to the provision of a business language academy through the Assured Skills programme although he tempered this by saying “however, that is dependent on an identified need of a group of employers, where the availability of language skills is impeding the growth of a particular sector.”

The Minister then discussed the progress that has been made on post-19 special educational needs (SEN) provision. The Minister outlined the Department’s commitment to post-19 SEN provision with a range of education, skills and employment provision such as Training for Success, apprenticeships, further and higher education, programmes funded through the European social fund, careers guidance and employment support services. A number of strategic changes have also been implemented to improve support and services. These include the outworking of the review of careers support; the implementation of the new youth training strategy, Generating our Success; the further education strategy; an employment and skills strategy for people with disabilities; the delivery of a wide range of support services under the new European social fund programme; and the new economic inactivity strategy. Mr Farry is confident that “those initiatives will put in place additional and improved provision that young people with learning difficulties or disabilities can access to achieve their education, skills and employment goals.”

During Question Time the Minister also addressed queries on difficulties with the European Social Fund, employee gaps in the construction sector, skilled workers in the manufacturing industry and the Steps 2 Success programme.

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Dr Maggie Long, Dr Roger Manktelow, Dr Anne Tracey (Ulster) - Self-harm and Help-seeking: Service-User and Practitioner Perspectives

Self-harm is a significant public health issue and an important risk factor for suicide, about which there is a lack of Northern Ireland-based research. Self-harm is recognised to be considerably more prevalent than is suggested by reported figures based on hospital emergency department presentations.  Self-harm is often a hidden behaviour, and thus the extent of the phenomenon is unknown.  Help-seeking is a crucial factor in suicide intervention, yet it is a complex and difficult process for people who self-harm.  This presentation reports on the findings from qualitative research, which aimed to understand experiences of self-harm and help-seeking from the perspectives of people with a history of self-harm and practitioners experienced in working with the behaviour. It focuses on data collected from one-to-one interviews with participants (n=30) recruited at a community level, independent of statutory services, to gain insight into hidden self-harm. It outlines key findings that provide understanding about the onset of self-harm, experiences of disclosure, help-seeking and treatment services, as well as suggestions for encouraging help-seeking and improving support for people who self-harm. The presentation concludes considering the findings’ relevance for enhancing understanding of this under-researched issue and informing service provision and policy in Northern Ireland.
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