End of Session Report 12 May 2011 – 31 August 2012

Committee: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Wednesday, 26 September 2012

ISBN: Only available online

Remit and Powers

The Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has power to:

  • Consider and advise on Departmental Budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Membership

Committee Members:

Chairperson - Mr Mike Nesbitt [1] [2]

Deputy Chairperson - Mr Chris Lyttle

Mr Thomas Buchanan [3]

Mr Trevor Clarke

Mr Colum Eastwood

Mr William Humphrey

Mr Danny Kinahan [4]

Mr Alex Maskey

Mr Francie Molloy

Mr George Robinson

Ms Caitríona Ruane

[1] With effect 26 September 2011 Mr Nesbitt replaced Mrs Overend.

[2] With effect 17 April 2012 Mr Nesbitt replaced Mr Elliott as Chairperson.

[3] With effect 21 May 2012 Mr Buchanan replaced Mr Spratt.

[4] With effect 23 April 2012 Mr Kinahan was appointed to the Committee.

In the period from the election in May 2011 to August 2012, the Committee held a total of 39 Committee meetings.

Primary Legislation

The Ombudsman

The main work of the Committee this year has been to bring forward legislation to update and reform the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.

During the 2011-12 session, the Committee took evidence from a number of individuals on its proposals, including the Public Services Ombudsmen from Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland and from organisations such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and the National Union of Students. During consideration of this issue, the Committee remained fully engaged with the Northern Ireland Ombudsman. The Committee also sought advice from the Assembly’s Legal Services in relation to the legal implications of some decisions.

In June 2012, the Committee agreed to consult with other statutory and standing committees and a number of other key stakeholders in relation to the Committee’s key policy decisions. In the next session, following consideration of responses, the Committee will seek to bring forward a draft Bill for Assembly scrutiny.

Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill

The second stage of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill was passed by the Assembly and the Committee stage of the Bill commenced on 26 June 2012. The Committee began its oral evidence sessions in June, when the Committee heard from the Department and from the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Anthony Harte on the Bill and the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry.

The Committee will continue its scrutiny of the Bill, and aims to report on the Bill in October 2012.

Subordinate Legislation

The Committee considered and agreed a number of statutory rules including the Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations 2011, the Sex Discrimination Order 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2011, the Fair Employment (Specification of Authorities)(Amendment) Order 2012 and the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations 2012.

The Committee looked in detail at the Race Relations Order (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which sought to remove the right of employers employing seafarers to pay them different rates based on the seafarers’ nationality/home port. The Committee raised two main concerns with the Department in relation to the Order.  Firstly, the lack of an accurate estimate of the cost of implementing the Order (or broadening its scope) and its effect on the fishing fleet, and secondly, the scope of the Order in that it would still leave some foreign seafarers without protection. Due to the imminence of EU infraction proceedings, the Committee agreed that it was content with the Order and the Department has agreed to come back to the Committee in the new session with further information in relation to the issues raised.

Scrutiny

The Committee scrutinises in detail and advises on the Department’s budget in relation to allocation, expenditure and reductions. The Department also consults the Committee whenever its monitoring rounds are completed. The Committee closely examined budget readjustments and reclassifications that were proposed by the Department.

Programme for Government

The Committee undertook to produce a composite report of all statutory committees’ responses to the draft Programme for Government. The Committee also wrote to all statutory committees seeking their views on the draft Programme for Government with particular focus to:

  • Gaps in the Programme for Government
  • Milestones and Outcomes, and
  • Monitoring progress

In relation to OFMDFM’s responsibilities in the Programme for Government, the Committee sought briefings from the First Minister and deputy First Minister, the Commissioners which fall under the remit of OFMDFM (Equality Commission, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, the Commissioner for Older People and the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors) and the Strategic Investment Board. The Committee’s published its composite Report on 15 February 2012.

The Committee asked the Department to consider changes in a number of areas including the need for greater reference to Europe in the Programme for Government and the need to see more detail on how departments’ progress will be monitored to allow for effective scrutiny, particularly in areas such as poverty and social exclusion.

Following the Committee’s report, there were a number of amendments to the Programme for Government including an additional commitment in relation to increasing uptake of competitive EU funds. The Committee also welcomed changes to Priority 2 to include more detail on the structures to coordinate departments working together in these areas – namely the Delivering Social Change framework. 

In March 2011, the Committee was briefed by the Department on the Programme for Government Delivery Report for the previous Programme for Government 2008-11. This briefing provided detail on the number of commitments met and those that were not met.  Officials responded to Members concerns regarding the current arrangements for monitoring Programme for Government delivery and assured the Committee that arrangements for monitoring 2012-2015 Delivery Plans would be a significant improvement. Those Delivery plans have now been received and will be scrutinised in September 2012.

Children and Young People 

The Committee sought briefings by junior Ministers on the work of the Department and the Executive in relation to children and young people’s issues, and specifically child poverty and the work of the Executive Sub-Committee on poverty and social inclusion. The Committee expressed its concern to Ministers regarding the delay in publishing the Annual Report under the Child Poverty Act.  The Committee will continue to monitor the progress made within the Delivering Social Change Framework. The Committee was also briefed on a number of occasions by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People on her work.

Regeneration of Sites

Over the past 15 months, the Committee has visited all the sites that the Department has responsibility for. In June 2011, the Committee visited the Maze/Long Kesh site and was briefed by officials on the work that is being undertaken to redevelop the site; the Committee continues to receive regular updates on the Maze/Long Kesh site and was briefed by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society on their move to the Maze/Long Kesh Site.

Committee Members and Maze/Long Kesh Programme Director Kyle Alexander at the Maze/Long Kesh site in June 2011.

Committee Members and Maze/Long Kesh Programme Director Kyle Alexander at the Maze/Long Kesh site in June 2011

The Committee also visited the Ebrington site in Londonderry, Crumlin Road Gaol.  Committee Members visiting Shackleton Barracks in Ballykelly met with local farmers whose land is affected by flooding/drainage from the Shackelton site and sought details of the Department’s plans to coordinate action on the issue.

Other issues considered by the Committee

In relation to the establishment of the Victims and Survivors Service, the Committee sought briefings from officials, the Victims and Survivors Commissioners, the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund and the Community Relations Council.  The Committee successfully highlighted to the Department concerns about underspend to ensure money was not lost to victims. The Committee views the development of the Service as an important priority for the Department over the coming session.

The Committee also met with the Commissioner for Older People to discuss her work and looks forward to considering the draft Older People’s Strategy in the new session.

The Committee sought briefings from the Department on a number of occasions on the progress of the Social Investment Fund and again will be scrutinising the roll out of the Social Investment Fund to ensure that money is targeted to those areas most in need.

The Committee is keen to see the development of the Department’s Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. The Committee was briefed on the responses to the public consultation and awaits the redraft of the policy in the new session. The Committee has taken a keen interest in community relations and met in September 2011 in Derry/Londonderry with a number of community groups in relation to issues facing communities. The Committee also held a follow up event in March 2012 to allow further discussion on community relations.

The Committee’s Stakeholder Event with Community Relations Groups in March 2012

 The Committee’s Stakeholder Event with Community Relations Groups in March 2012

During the session, the Committee was briefed by the Electoral Commission on the 2011 Elections. Members attending the Scottish Local Government Elections in May 2012 to observe the electronic counting system reported favourably to the Committee.

Europe

June 2011 saw the establishment of the Committee’s European Panel Forum. The Forum brings together MLAs and Northern Ireland’s representatives in Europe, such as MEPs, members of the European Economic and Social Committee, members of the Committee of the Regions with key stakeholders in the European sector and departmental officials to allow discussion on important European issues. This follows from a recommendation that came from the previous Committee’s Report into the Consideration of European Issues, which highlighted the importance of good communication between the key European stakeholders and the need for representatives to collectively put across Northern Ireland’s view on important European policies and directives. The forum has met four times and has discussed a wide range of subjects including Structural Funds, the Common Agriculture Policy, Research and Development, transportation and funding.

The Committee has also scrutinised the Department’s and the Executive’s work in Europe and considered and responded to the Executive’s draft European Priorities for 2012. The Committee was also consulted on the Review of the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels and sought follow-up briefing on the findings of the Review.

In October 2011, the Committee undertook a visit to Edinburgh and to Brussels. In Edinburgh, the Committee met with the Scottish European and External Relations Committee to discuss issues such as structural funds, research and development and scrutiny of European issues in a regional parliament. In Edinburgh, the Committee also met with the Chinese Consul General to discuss a number of issues, including the setting up of a Confucius Institute in Northern Ireland and developing links between China and Northern Ireland.

Committee Members with Members of the Scottish European and External Affairs Committee in Edinburgh in October 2011

Committee Members with Members of the Scottish European and External Affairs Committee in Edinburgh in October 2011

In Brussels, the Committee were keen to seek an understanding of how countries holding the rotating presidency of the EU develop the agenda for their six month presidency and the possibilities of influencing this agenda, or benefitting from it. Members were also seeking to develop contacts and gain access to information networks. Additionally, the Committee wanted to gain expert insights into the key current EU issues, particularly around structural and cohesion funds to inform the Committee’s scrutiny of these issues in the context of the 2014-20 funding period.

Forthcoming Priorities

The Committee will continue with its scrutiny of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill and will produce its report on the Bill when completed.

In the 2012-13 session, the Committee will finalise its proposals for legislation to reform and update the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman with a view to introducing a Bill before the end of that session.

The Committee will also be considering responses to the Department’s consultation on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration and playing an active role in the development of the Programme.

The Committee will continue its scrutiny of the Department’s work in relation to children and young people including action on foot of the Child Poverty Strategy and the wide range of measures within the Delivering Social Change Framework.

The Committee remains committed to improving its interaction in Europe and ensuring that there is an early opportunity for the Committee to influence European policy and legislation that is relevant to Northern Ireland. The Committee will continue to improve its engagement with the European Institutions and Northern Ireland’s representatives in Europe and other key stakeholders.

The Committee will continue its scrutiny of the Department’s work in relation to the Social Investment Fund and the roll-out of the funding available.         

Committee for Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Expenditure for the period 12 May 2011 – 31 August 2012

Budget area

Details

Expenditure

Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of committee visits to:

  • Londonderry – Committee meeting at Ilex
  • Edinburgh/Brussels – to meet Scottish EU Committee and meet with a number of regions in relation to the EU Presidency
  • Washington (Chair and Deputy Chair)
  • Edinburgh – to observe Scottish Local Government Elections

and 2 meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

£15600.75

Printing of committee reports

Includes the cost of committee reports on:

  • Report on the draft Programme for Government

£693.48

Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to committee inquiries, the committee stage of Bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

Includes the cost of public notices in relation to:

  • Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Bill

 

£1013.96

Consultancy support - the cost of specialist advisers appointed by the committee and commissioned research, also the cost of drafting Standing Orders

Specialist adviser to the Committee on [issue/inquiry to which the advice related]

£ 0

General expenses

Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses, gifts provided by the committee during visits and conference fees for members.

Including dinner to celebrate China National Day

£4482.52

Total Expenditure

£21790.71

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