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Stormont to limit business to law-making only

The political parties have agreed to facilitate remote participation in Assembly plenary sessions, Speaker Alex Maskey said.

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Stormont is to move to remote attendance by members during the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

Stormont is to move to remote attendance by members during the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

Stormont is to move to remote attendance by members during the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

Stormont is to limit plenary business to law-making to reduce the numbers using the building during the pandemic.

The number of question times involving ministers orally delivering answers to Assembly members is to fall from four to three a week.

The political parties have agreed to facilitate remote participation in Assembly plenary sessions, Speaker Alex Maskey said.

These have been normally held on Mondays and Tuesdays and in pre-coronavirus times would have brought many members on to the hill.

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Alex Maskey (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alex Maskey (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Alex Maskey (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Maskey said: “At its meeting earlier this week, the Business Committee agreed to limit plenary business during the current restrictions.

“Private members’ motions and adjournment debates will not be scheduled.

“Given the time left in this mandate, it was agreed that it was important that legislation (both Executive and non-Executive bills) continue to be dealt with.”

Most of the Executive’s business since powersharing was restored a year ago has been dominated by dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

The Assembly returns to plenary sittings next week following the Christmas break.

Mr Maskey said that was happening amid a concerning public health picture and the return of strict restrictions.

He added: “While the Assembly has a vital role at this time, it is important that the management of Assembly business should also seek to respond to these serious circumstances, the public health message and the need to protect members and staff as much as possible.”

A new question time rota for oral questions was already scheduled to begin next week. This will reduce the frequency of ministerial attendance.

Remote participation of members in plenary business has been discussed at different committees recently.

The Speaker added: “There is now agreement in principle among the parties to move to facilitate remote participation in plenary sittings and I have communicated that broad position to the Committee on Procedures to assist its further deliberations on the matter.

“Assembly Commission officials have carried out the planning and scoping work to procure and install the necessary equipment. I hope this will minimise any delay between any decision the Committee on Procedures and the Assembly might take and such changes being implemented.”

In many other representative institutions committees have moved entirely to virtual meetings.

A number of fully virtual meetings have taken place at Stormont.

Mr Maskey said: “I would encourage committees to make use of the facilities available to them as such a step would have a significant impact on the number of staff required to be in the building.

“I would ask every member not to attend Parliament Buildings unless required for specific plenary or committee proceedings.

“For my own part, I intend to be in Parliament Buildings only on days when I will be chairing proceedings in the chamber and my office will work remotely the remainder of the time.”

Stormont ministers have requested that Assembly business be reduced to only urgent business during the current lockdown and members stay at home where possible.

PA


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