Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 22 October 2014

Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

1.            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

The acting Chairperson sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. 

The Acting Chairperson declared an interest in two matters arising under Any Other Business with regard to Items 14.6 and 14.7. No other matters were declared.

2.            ACTING CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

The Acting Chairperson expressed her concerns in relation to the absence of a Speaker and subsequent absence of a Commission Chairperson and encouraged all Members to continue to progress the matter for resolution.  Ms Cochrane echoed the sentiments of the Acting Chairperson.

The Acting Chairperson drew Members attention to the letter of thanks and appreciation received from the former Speaker, Mr Hay MLA.  Following discussion it was agreed that Officials would consider options for an event to recognise the work of the Speaker during his tenure.  Mr Ramsey further suggested that a separate function should be arranged to recognise the role of the Speaker as Chairperson of the Assembly Commission.  The Clerk/Chief Executive also informed Members that consideration would be given to the painting of a portrait in line with the Commission’s policy.

The Acting Chairperson concluded her business by reminding Members that there would be a short meeting of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association Executive Committee on conclusion of the Commission meeting.

Actions:

  • Paper to be drafted for a future meeting, exploring options for recognising the work of the Speaker during his tenure. 

3.         MINUTES OF MEETINGS

Minutes of the meeting of the 17 September 2014 and 22 September 2014 were agreed for publication. 

4.         MATTERS ARISING

4.1       PSNI Search MoU (Matter arising from 17 September 2014)

The acting Chairperson sought an update in relation to her query raised on 17 September 2014.  The Director of Facilities/ Keeper of the House informed the Commission that the changes suggested by the Commission were referred to the PSNI and that a number of contacts have been made to expedite a response.  He highlighted that subject to a response from the PSNI, it is planned to have the item on the agenda for the Commission meeting in November 2014.  Mr Welch further advised that he would confirm responsibility for policing costs at the Dail as also requested at the September meeting and inform Commission Members.

Action:

  • Paper on MoU for Policing to be considered at the next Commission meeting subject to a response from PSNI.
  • Confirmation to be sought from the Oireachtas in relation to Gardaí charges and information forwarded to Commission Members.

 

4.2       Breastfeeding Welcome Here Scheme (Matter arising from 17 September 2014)

The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Members that the Principal Deputy Speaker/Deputy Speakers had sought advice on a response to the Commission regarding the Speaker’s previous letter relating to breastfeeding in the Chamber. He highlighted that they would be considering the information after recess and the matter would be on the agenda for the Commission meeting in November 2014.

4.3       Arrangements for temporary Chairs for Assembly Commission meetings

The Clerk/Chief Executive reminded Members that they had agreed at their meeting on 17 September 2014 that should other Commission meetings occur in the absence of a Speaker, then the temporary chairperson role would be taken on a rotational basis between Commission Members, as far as reasonably practical in the order of party strength.   The Clerk/Chief Executive further confirmed that today’s discussion had arisen following a request from Ms Ruane to discuss the approach to the rotation of temporary Chairs.

The Clerk/Chief Executive highlighted that the vacancy now created by the Speaker’s resignation placed merit in revisiting the issue as the circumstances pertaining when the matter was previously considered had changed. He also indicated that at this stage the duration of the vacancy was unknown.  In discussing the position, the Clerk/Chief Executive also highlighted a range of supporting activities undertaken by the Speaker in addition to the Chairing of meetings of the Commission.

Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the position of temporary Chairperson would continue on a rotational basis as previously agreed and that during the vacancy the temporary chair would receive a pre-brief from officials on the agenda and papers in advance of each Commission meeting and sign any necessary items of follow-up correspondence from the meeting which they had chaired.  It was further agreed that portfolio Members would review answers to AQWs and AQOs as required.  In conclusion, the Commission agreed that the Clerk/Chief Executive would keep all Members briefed on any significant emerging issues and seek informal advice via e-mail or by convening short briefings.  Members also agreed that the arrangements would be kept under close review to ensure that they were working effectively.

Actions:

  • Necessary arrangements to be implemented for acting Chairperson as agreed.

 

4.4       Roof Project - Update

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed the Commission that the roof project remains on programme and within budget for completion by the end of May 2015.  He highlighted that recent heavy rainfall did lead to some water ingress on the third and fourth floors, but assured Members that the matter had been rectified.  Mr Welch also highlighted that the majority of the noisy work items had now been completed with minimal disruption to ongoing Assembly business and services and placed on record his gratitude to all building users for their ongoing tolerance and patience.  Mr Welch also informed the Commission that the project had been nominated and shortlisted for three environmental awards and he would keep Members advised of any progress.

 5.        CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT

The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) provided Members with an update on the key issues arising in his monthly report namely:

5.1       Commission Annual Report - 2013/14 Session

Following an earlier viewing, the Commission commended the DVD as an innovative and useful summary of the work of the Assembly during 2013/14 and agreed that it should now be published.  The Clerk/CE informed Members that an Irish language version would also be made available for use with Irish Language educational visits and on request for other interested groups and individuals.  The Director of Information and Outreach agreed that he would forward for Members information, the timings in relation to the translation of the DVD into Irish.

Actions:

  • DVD of Annual Report 2013/14 to publish as proposed
  • Timings in relation to the translation of the DVD into Irish to be forwarded to Members for information

 

5.2       Management Accounts  

The Director of Corporate Services provided an overview of the Management Accounts for the 6 month period April – September 2014.  Mr Stewart drew Members attention to some potential overspends by Members relating to OCE and it was agreed that advice and support would be offered to those Members who may be affected.

Action:

  • Advice to be offered to MLAs with a potential overspend at year end in relation to OCE expenditure. 

 

5.3       Standards and Privileges Committee – Review of the Members’ Code of

Conduct

The Clerk/CE highlighted that he had provided evidence in respect of the Commission’s response to the Review of the Members’ Code of Conduct to the Standards and Privileges Committee on 15 October 2014 and he would keep Members apprised of any further developments.

5.4       NI Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2014

The Clerk/CE highlighted that under the provisions of the NI Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2014, an order was being prepared for the retrospective publication of details of funding for parties from 2007 to 2013.  He also informed Members that the Order was likely to contain a Schedule of entities that fall within its remit with the Assembly Commission being one of them.   Further to this, he advised that the Schedule was also expected to contain an identified person (not by name but by role) to act as the person who will grant authority to the Electoral Commission to publish the retrospective information and that it was anticipated that this responsibility will fall to the Clerk / Chief Executive of the Assembly.

5.5       Litigation Update

The Director of Legal and Governance provided members with an update in relation to the current litigation matters.    

5.6       Parliament Buildings – Venue for Political Talks

The Clerk/CE provided Members with the detail in relation to a request from the  NIO, which had now been withdrawn, to provide facilities at Parliament Buildings for the political talks convened by the Secretary of State.  It was agreed that all details of information, correspondence, telephone calls and meetings regarding the matter would be circulated to all Commission Members when prepared.  

Action:

  • Full details of information, correspondence, telephone calls and meetings regarding this issue to be circulated to Commission Members when available 

 

5.7       Office Cost Expenditure

The Clerk/Chief Executive provided the Commission with an update on issues relating to the use of Office Cost Expenditure and the planned BBC Spotlight documentary. 

5.8       External Relations – Jordan and Morocco

The Clerk/CE highlighted and paid tribute to the Assembly’s Research and Information Service who under the auspices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), had provided training and support to counterparts in the Parliaments of Jordan and Morocco during 2014-15.   

6.         PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS EXTERNAL LIGHTING

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to the development of an external lighting project for Parliament Buildings.  He highlighted that the project had been considered as part of the existing contract for the roof project and costs had been outlined to install an LED IntelliPower lighting system which could illuminate the front and side elevations of Parliament Buildings.  Mr Welch highlighted a range of environmental and sustainability benefits which would see both electrical consumption and carbon emissions of Parliament Buildings reduced.

The Acting Chairperson proposed that the policy should include the provision to agree submissions by consenus as previously included within the ‘perspectives on …’ series.  Mr Weir, Mr Ramsey and Mr Gardiner highlighted their support in principle.  Following further discussion, it was agreed that additional information would be included prior to final consideration in relation to procurement advice, proposed savings and timescales for the project.

The Commission further considered the draft policy and agreed that it should be revised to highlight the management of the system in terms of set dates and ad-hoc requests.  In conclusion, Members agreed that the revised paper and policy would be considered at an ad-hoc meeting on Tuesday 11 November 2014.     

Actions:

  • Further paper to be drafted highlighting the procurement advice and more specific breakdown in relation to proposed savings for the project (e.g. electricity)
  • Draft Policy to be revised to reflect Commission decision that the building could be ‘lit up’ for 1 day for the marking of certain events and for up to 1 week max if the event was requested by the Assembly’s Charity of the Year.
  • Draft Policy to be revised to include consideration for the projection of images on the building.
  • Draft Policy to be revised to include the principle to agree by consensus, as previously included in the ‘Perspectives on …’ series.”
  • Matter to be considered at an ad-hoc meeting of the Commission at 9.30am on Tuesday 11 November 2014

7.      REVIEW OF EVENTS POLICY

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed the Commission that a range of policies relating to events had been developed over the previous 12 years and due to a range of changes, a review was undertaken to inform the development of a revised policy for the Commissions consideration.

After considering the paper, the Acting Chairperson requested a copy of the equality screening report in addition to a range of queries relating to provisions within the policy.  Members agreed that clarification would be sought to inform a decision at a meeting on 11 November 2014.

Ms Cochrane also highlighted that certain groups were experiencing additional costs for the renting of chairs for events held in Parliament Buildings and asked if the Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House would give consideration to purchasing additional chairs for use free of charge. 

 Actions:

  • Copy of equality screening report to be included in a revised information paper.
  • Revised paper should provide further detail and rationale relating to the following policy areas, namely:
    • 1.2.1 – the use of a 3 Signature Rule;
    • 1.2.2 – Exemptions – why individuals other than Members detailed at 1.1.1 can be exempt from 3 Signature rule;
    • 2.6.1 – Translation – why it is the responsibility of the Primary Signatory Sponsor or the group to provide translation; and
    • 2.11.3 – The use of political or party stands – why is this not allowed – is it allowed in the Long Gallery?
    • Matter to be considered at an ad-hoc meeting of the Commission at 10am on Tuesday 11 November 2014
    • The Director of Facilities to give consideration to the purchase of additional chairs for use during Assembly Events.

 

8.         DRAFT ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY

The Director of Information and Outreach outlined the draft Engagement Strategy to guide the Assembly Commission’s engagement activities during 2015 – 2016.

The Acting Chairperson commended the project team on their work in developing the draft Engagement Strategy.  The Director of Information and Outreach highlighted that it was important to consider the management of expectations of what the draft Strategy can deliver in the current financial climate.  The Commission endorsed the partnership approach being taken by Officials in creating alternatives mechanisms to deliver the programmes and projects required to meet the objectives of the Strategy. The Clerk/Chief Executive highlighted the need to consider expenditure on engagement within the wider budget pressures facing the Assembly Commission.

Decision:  The Engagement Strategy was approved for implementation.

Action:          

  • Officials to develop appropriate programmes to meet the objectives of the Strategy, subject to budget confirmation.

 

10.       USHER SERVICES – INTERNAL AUDIT 

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to progress achieved following the recommendations proposed within the internal audit of Usher Services conducted during 2014. 

Mr Welch highlighted that 14 recommendations had arisen from the audit, all of which were accepted by Facilities Directorate. He further reported that actions in respect of 11 of the recommendations which were either risk rating 2 or 3, had already or were nearing completion.  Mr Welch drew Members attention to the remaining three outstanding recommendations which were classified as risk rating 1 and related to:

  • the use the Visitor Management System (VMS) when entering or exiting Parliament Buildings;
  • the introduction of more effective security measures and access controls at Parliament Buildings; and
  • reference to the security of the building is included within the Facilities Directorate Risk Register and Business plan with the identification of appropriate controls.

 

Following discussion Members agreed not to take forward the proposed recommendations and that they were prepared to accept the associated risks. The matters would be kept under close review for future consideration.

11.       GENDER ACTION PLAN

The Commission agreed to defer the matter for consideration at their meeting on 26 November 2014.

Actions:

  • Item deferred for consideration until Commission Meeting on 26 Nov 14. 

 

12.       BUDGET PLANNING 2015/16 

The Director of Corporate Services sought the Commission’s views on resource allocation in 2015/16.  The Clerk/Chief Executive informed the Commission that as directed, he had written to the DFP Permanent Secretary and that the response confirms the re-instatement of the budget cut that was applied to the Commission’s 2014/15 budget in the June Monitoring round and offers a non-committal view on 2015/16.

Members considered a range of proposals to restrain costs and paid tribute to the Senior Management Group on achieving existing savings through the efficiency review and other measures.  Following consideration, Members agreed that a significant amount of progress had been achieved and that efforts would continue in making efficiencies resulting in savings.  The Clerk/Chief Executive highlighted that further consideration would need to be given by the Commission to seeking savings and prioritising services within the budget for 2015/16.  In conclusion, it was agreed that Officials would continue to engage with DFP to inform budget planning measures for 2015/16 and Members would be closely informed of any impact or development.

13.       MEMBERS SURVEY 2014 

The Director of Clerking and Reporting drew Members attention to the report of the Members Survey 2014, and requested their consideration on whether any actions were required to address areas for further improvement.  Dr McGrath highlighted that overall results indicated that the services provided by the Assembly Commission were viewed very positively by Members and their support staff as reflected in both the online survey and in feedback from interviews with Members. 

Dr McGrath also highlighted that in relation to the performance of the Assembly Commission as a corporate body:

  • The majority of Members who responded to the question (85.4%) were satisfied or very satisfied with the performance of the Assembly Commission in ensuring that the Assembly has the property, staff and services required for its effective operation; and
  • The majority of Members who responded to the question (77.8%) were satisfied or very satisfied that the Commission, in carrying out its functions, is meeting its statutory obligations regarding equality of opportunity and good relations.

 

Dr McGrath informed the Commission that suggestions for improvement related mainly to infrastructure and resources and a common theme that had emerged was the need to better promote the services provided by the Secretariat.  Dr McGrath also sought the Commission’s view on the setting of a threshold for measuring Members satisfaction which if not achieved would allow for the development of an action plan.  The Acting Chairperson further highlighted that she would like the issue of equality to be explored within the context of the findings reported.

Members welcomed the report but agreed that further consideration should be given to examining the outputs for setting a Member satisfaction rate of 70%, 75% and 80%.

Actions:

  • Paper to be revised to include outputs for setting a threshold for Member satisfaction at 70%, 75% and 80%.
  • Revised paper to be added to the Commission Agenda for 26 November 14.

14.       ANY OTHER BUSINESS

14.1    Assembly Commission Oral Question Time

Mr Logue provided Members with the timings for the next Assembly Commission Oral Question Time on 18 November 2014.

Actions: 

  • Copies of AQOs to issue to Commission Members on Thursday 6 November 2014.
  • CCEO to collate draft responses for Clerk/CE and associated briefings with Members.

14.2    Correspondence from Mr J McCallister MLA

The acting Chairperson drew Members attention to correspondence received from Mr McCallister MLA.  Members also considered the interim response issued from the Speaker highlighting the support available to Members in their role as employers.  Members confirmed their commitment to supporting all Members, but agreed that the responsibility was primarily that of the member as the employer.   In conclusion, it was agreed that a further response would be forwarded to Mr McCallister MLA highlighting the guidance available from HR and available access to welfare support.

Ms Cochrane also suggested that further consideration could be given to developing a training programme for Members as employers at the beginning of a Mandate to outline their responsibilities and the range of welfare services available.

Actions:

  • Provide further correspondence to Mr McCallister highlighting the guidance available from HR and available access to welfare support in relation to supporting Members in their role as employers. 

14.3      Submission for Simon Community lighting of Parliament Buildings

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House drew Members attention to a request from the Simon Community to light up the front of the building to raise awareness of homeless week.  Mr Welch highlighted that in the absence of a policy, it had been agreed that the Commission would consider each request received on a case by case basis.  Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the Simon Community, as the Assembly’s Charity of the Year, would be allowed to light up the building as requested.

Decision:  Request from Simon Community approved.

14.4      Submission to project image of John Bell on Parliament Buildings

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House drew Members attention to a request from the Royal Irish Academy to project an image of the late John Bell unto the front of Parliament Buildings on 4 November 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the scientific article which transformed the world of science.  Mr Welch confirmed that the image would be projected at no cost to the Commission.  The Commission agreed that the image of the late John Bell be projected unto the building on 4 November 2014.    

Decision:  Request from Royal Irish Academy approved.

14.5      Flags EQIA Interim Report for public Consultation

The Acting Chairperson highlighted that she was opposed to addressing the matter at the Commission.  She emphasised that she considered the process undemocratic and highlighted her criticism for the spending of public money in that regard.

Mr Logue drew Members attention to the Interim Report on the Flags EQIA by Policy Arc, the consultants appointed to carry out the EQIA on the flying of the Union flag at Parliament Buildings. Mr Logue highlighted that the report provided background on the policy and purpose of the EQIA; an analysis of available data and research, including outcomes of EQIAs carried out by other public authorities and associated legal advice; assessment of impacts; consideration of alternative policies and mitigating measures; and information on the formal consultation. In addition, he informed Members that the report included a summary of issues raised during the pre-consultation process, carried out with building users i.e. Members, party staff, Secretariat staff, contract staff and Trade Union Side during the first two weeks of October 2014.  

Following consideration, Mr Weir proposed, seconded by Ms Cochrane that formal consultation proceed on the flying of the Union Flag at Parliament Buildings as proposed by the Commission in February 2013.  The Commission voted as follows:

For:                 Mr Weir, Mr Gardiner and Ms Cochrane = 62 votes

Against:         Ms Ruane = 29 votes

The proposal was agreed.

Decision:

  • Formal Consultation to commence from 27 October 2014 to 2 February 2014. 

 

All Officials and Mr McKenna left the meeting with the exception of the Clerk/Chief Executive, Director of Corporate Services and Head of Commission and Chief Executive’s Office.

As indicated, the Acting Chairperson vacated the Chair due to a conflict of interest.  Ms Cochrane agreed to act as Chair for the two remaining items on the agenda.

14.6    Ill health retirement of a Member

(Confidential discussion)

All Officials and Mr McKenna rejoined the meeting.

14.7      Correspondence relating to bi-lingual translation of Assembly Questions

The Acting Chairperson drew Members attention to correspondence received by Padraig Ó Muirigh solicitors acting on behalf of Sinn Fein which related to the Commission’s current guidance on answering questions for written response.  Following consideration, it was agreed that the matter would be discussed in conjunction with the equality screening report on Assembly Commission Questions at the Commission Meeting on 26 Nov 14

15.       DATE OF NEXT MEETING

An ad-hoc meeting of the Commission to take place on Tuesday 11 November at 9.30am in Room 106, chaired by Ms Cochrane MLA. The next full meeting to take place on Wednesday, 26 November 2014 at 2.00pm in Room 106, chaired by Mr Weir MLA.

The meeting concluded at 5.11pm

Mr Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Chief Executive’s Office       

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