Minutes of Proceedings
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 11 June 2021
Meeting Venue: Meeting via Microsoft Teams
Meeting date: Friday 11 June 2021
Meeting Time: 3.00 pm
Assembly Commission Members:
Mr Keith Buchanan MLA (Acting Chairperson)
Mr John O'Dowd MLA
Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA
Mr Robbie Butler MLA
Mr John Blair MLA
Mrs Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive
Ms Tara Caul, Director of Legal, Governance and Research Services
Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services
Mr Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services
Mr Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support
Mrs Janet Hughes, Clerical Supervisor
Others in attendance:
The meeting commenced at 3.08 pm.
APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSION MEMBER TO PRESIDE OVER MEETING.
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that the Speaker would not be present for the meeting due to ill health. In his absence and in accordance with Section 3.6 of the Assembly Commission Handbook, Members agreed that Keith Buchanan MLA would act as the temporary Chairperson for this meeting.
An apology was received from the Speaker.
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
3. CHAIRPERSON'S BUSINESS
Mr Buchanan MLA noted that his imminent appointment as Deputy Chairperson of the Finance Committee, would disqualify him from continuing in his role as a member of the Assembly Commission. He advised Members that if the appointment was made before oral questions to the Assembly Commission on Tuesday 15 June 2021, officials would be required to reallocate those questions that he had been scheduled to answer, to another Assembly Commission Member.
Members recorded their thanks to Mr Buchanan MLA for the positive working relationship they had had with him and noted that the Assembly Commission had worked well together since its appointment in January 2020. Members wished him well on his new appointment.
4. PROPOSED REOPENING OF PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS FOR EVENTS, TOURS, PUBLIC DINING AND VISITORS
Mr Buchanan MLA noted that it had been agreed at the last Assembly Commission meeting on 12 May 2021 that the closure of Parliament Buildings to the public should continue until the end of June 2021, with a review at that time. However, given the number of oral and written questions to the Assembly Commission as a result of the significant easing of public health restrictions and guidance in recent weeks, Mr Buchanan MLA stated that it would be prudent to review the situation at this stage.
Gareth McGrath subsequently presented a number of recommendations for consideration by Members, to come into effect from 14 July 2021, subject to the Coronavirus Regulations in force at that time, namely:
- removal of the restriction on limiting access to Parliament Buildings to permanent pass-holders;
- resumption of events, tours, public dining and visitors to Parliament Buildings;
- reduction of the two metre social distancing rule in the Blue Flax to one metre, or the social distancing requirements in force at the relevant time; and
- a return to normal opening times for Parliament Buildings from Monday to Friday.
Dr McGrath advised that as the Assembly went in to summer recess on 10 July 2021, the proposed reopening of Parliament Buildings on 14 July 2021
would allow staff the time to make the necessary preparations for the return of visitors to the building, and minimise the risk of infection in the intervening period so that the vital work of the Assembly was not disrupted in advance of recess.
Dr McGrath noted that the health and safety of staff, Members, other building users and that of visitors would continue to be paramount and that the practical considerations in relation to the provision of events and public tours would be considered in detail to ensure that they could be provided safely.
In relation to social distancing in the Assembly Chamber and committee rooms, Dr McGrath advised that the recommendation of officials was to maintain the existing two metre rule until the summer recess, and in parallel to consult with the Business Committee and the Chairpersons' Liaison Group on social distancing arrangements from September.
Following consideration, Members were content with the recommendations as outlined and agreed that the decisions in relation to the reopening of Parliament Buildings for events, tours, public dining and visitors should be communicated to MLAs.
Action: Speaker to write to MLAs advising them of the Assembly Commission's decisions in relation to the reopening of Parliament Buildings for events, tours, public dining and visitors.
5. FORTHCOMING PLENARY DEBATE ON A MOTION, TABLED BY THE COMMITTEE ON PROCEDURES, DIRECTING THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION TO PROVIDE SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETATION OF ASSEMBLY BUSINESS IN IRISH AND ULSTER SCOTS
Mr Buchanan MLA noted that the Speaker had briefed Members at the last Assembly Commission meeting, on his meeting with the Chair of the Committee on Procedures, in relation to the commitments within 'New Decade, New Approach' on simultaneous translation of Assembly business. He said that during this meeting, the Speaker had underlined that the key issue for the Assembly Commission was for it to be given the authority and direction as to the resources required to put the agreed arrangements in place.
Dr McGrath set out the background to the motion from the Committee on Procedures regarding the interpretation of Assembly business in Irish and Ulster Scots, which had been scheduled for debate on 15 June 2021.
Dr McGrath stated that it was for the Committee on Procedures to consider procedurally how simultaneous translation should be delivered and for the Assembly to decide the matter.
Dr McGrath also advised that the motion constituted a direction to the Assembly Commission under Section 40(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
He said that if passed, the motion would be legally binding on the Assembly Commission, requiring it to provide the resources and services to deliver the Assembly's decision.
Members noted that it was the Committee on Procedures which had considered the matter, had tabled the Assembly Motion and had brought it to the Assembly; agreed that it was unnecessary for the Assembly Commission to formally contribute to the debate; and that the Assembly Commission would deal with the matter once the Assembly had reached its decision.
6. The meeting went into closed session for the next agenda item from 3.33 pm until 3.39 pm.
There was no other business.
8. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting was scheduled for 30 June 2021.
The meeting ended at 3.40 pm.