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Cost of living, housing and Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme feature in first Assembly questions of the new mandate

Five pressing issues were put to communities minister


Pressing issues include support for households impacted by the cost-of-living crisis

Pressing issues include support for households impacted by the cost-of-living crisis

Pressing issues include support for households impacted by the cost-of-living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis, housing and an emergency fuel payment scheme: these are just some of the most pressing issues covered in the first written Assembly questions for Stormont’s caretaker ministers.

Written Assembly questions are used by MLAs to follow up on constituency issues, obtain information and question ministers.

Under Stormont rules, each MLA is allowed to table five questions per day, to which ministers have ten days to respond — although this deadline is frequently missed.

Due to the impasse at Stormont, ministers who served under the last mandate will continue to serve in a caretaker capacity for up to six months, except for infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon, who lost her seat and has been replaced by Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd. This is because the SDLP chose not to renominate someone to take Ms Mallon’s place as the party didn’t win enough sits to qualify for a ministry.

While MLAs cannot meet in the chamber, Speaker Alex Maskey on Friday confirmed to members that they can still table questions.

The first questions have been asked by one MLA — the UUP’s Andy Allen — who posed five queries to communities minister Deirdre Hargey on his first day in the Assembly under the new mandate.

He first asked “what measures her department is considering to support households impacted by the cost-of-living crisis”, while his second question asked the minister to “detail the total number of four-bedroom homes built in each of the last five years, broken down by constituency”.

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Thirdly, he asked Ms Hargey whether she will reopen her department’s Emergency Fuel Payment Scheme. Between January and March, this £2m fund paid £100 to successful applicants to help mitigate against rising fuel costs. Several parties have said it should be reopened.

Mr Allen also asked the communities minister how many applicants received a payment under the scheme and to detail the total number of households on the housing waiting list.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the East Belfast MLA said written Assembly questions are an important resource available to MLAs which provide the ability to raise pressing matters with ministers and “their importance is even more so now that the Assembly has been prevented from being established”.

“Prior to the election I often utilised this resource to raise matters on behalf of constituents, alongside the other Assembly functions such as question time, motions and committee, although the latter aspects will not be available to MLAs until the Assembly has been established,” he said.

“Throughout the election campaign, there were many issues raised with me and my team that I will be raising through written questions. Some of these issues include the rising cost of living, the lack of social and affordable housing, and pressures facing the health service, which are magnified by the lack of an agreed budget.

“I will also continue to press on the issues I have raised in the previous mandate, alongside the important matters raised with me daily by constituents from across east Belfast.”

Figures compiled by the Belfast Telegraph show that, over the last mandate, inquisitive MLAs tabled 34,526 questions for ministers. TUV leader Jim Allister asked the most (1,694), followed by former DUP-turned-independent MLA Alex Easton (1,635), independent MLA Claire Sugden (1,355) and former Green Party MLA Rachel Woods (1,347).

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