Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 27 January 2016

Venue: Room 106

Commission Members:                  

The Speaker

Ms Paula Bradley MLA

Ms Caitríona Ruane MLA

Mrs Karen McKevitt MLA

Mr Sam Gardiner MBE JP MLA

Mrs Judith Cochrane MLA



Officials present:

Mr T Reaney, Ms T Caul, Dr G McGrath, Mr R Stewart,  Mr S Welch, Mr J Gilsenan and Mrs J Hughes

Others in attendance:

Mr Bernard  Mitchell, SARC Representative

Mr Ken Eccles, Head of Usher Services (Item 9)

Mr Brian Devlin, Head of Information Systems Office (Item 11)

Ms Susie Brown, Head of Communications and Outreach (Items 13, 14 & 15)

Ms Elaine O’Neill, Politics Plus (Items 13,14 & 15)

The meeting commenced at 1.03pm.




Bernard Mitchell declared an interest for an item in the Clerk/CE Key Update Report (agenda item 7.8).


The Speaker offered condolences to Caitríona on behalf of the Commission on the recent death of her mother.

The Speaker welcomed Karen McKevitt MLA to the Commission and praised the work of her predecessor Pat Ramsey both as a Commission Member and a member of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC).

The Speaker advised Members that the proposed date of the last Commission meeting between now and Dissolution is Wednesday 2 March at 1pm, with additional meetings being scheduled should the need arise.


The minutes of the Commission meeting on 2 December 2015 were agreed for   publication.

Action: Publish minutes.


5.1 Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) – Minor Reform (Timescales)

The Speaker referred Members to a paper presented to the Commission in December and Members’ request for additional information regarding timelines for the following three aspects:

  • Amending disqualifications for membership of IFRP;
  • Amending composition of or size of IFRP; and
  • Amending restriction to one determination per mandate.

Ms Caul, Acting Director of Legal and Governance Services spoke to her paper addressing the above three issues.

Mr Trevor Reaney, the Clerk/Chief Executive, outlined the options available to Members and a discussion regarding future changes to IFRP took place.  Mr Reaney also highlighted that a gap would arise between the end of the current Panel’s term of appointment and implementation of changes prior to a recruitment exercise for the next Panel.

Ms Ruane stressed the need for a diverse appointments panel.

Mrs Cochrane joined the meeting at 1.17pm.

Agreed: Members agreed that the three changes proposed should be made and that the necessary legislation be progressed at the start of the new Mandate.

Action: Ms Caul to draft a paper for the new Commission regarding the agreed reforms and the timeframes associated with implementing these decisions.

5.2 Longer term building improvements

Mr Welch, Director of Facilities advised Members that all short term building improvements had been completed and requested approval to proceed with one aspect of improving access to Parliament Buildings. Further papers regarding additional proposed access improvements will be considered at the next Commission meeting.

An architect’s drawing detailing the design of a new ramp was issued to Members for consideration. As only one compliant plan for improving access through the current retail space is possible, Members were asked to approve work for this.

Agreed: Members agreed with the proposed access improvements.

Action: Mr Welch to proceed with access work to current retail area.

Mr Welch advised Members that details and costing for longer term building improvements were still being collated.

Action: Mr Welch to bring a paper to the next Commission meeting detailing longer term building improvements.


6.1 The Commission noted correspondence between the former Finance   Minister and the Speaker following their meeting on 15 December 2015 regarding the Commission’s Budget for 2016/17.  The Speaker updated the Commission on the constructive meeting he had with the then Finance Minister, including the recognition of the Assembly Commission’s independence.

Mr Gardiner proposed a letter could be issued on behalf of the Commission to the First Minister and deputy First Minister congratulating them on their appointments.

Action: Speaker’ to send a letter on behalf of the Commission congratulating the First Minister and deputy First Minister on their appointments.

6.2 The Commission noted correspondence between the Speaker and the Chair of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure on assisting the deaf and hearing impaired community to engage with the legislative process and that the Speaker had asked officials to look at best practice in other institutions on how the Assembly could have facilities in place to meet the needs of anyone with hearing difficulties for any item of Assembly business.

6.3 The Commission noted correspondence between the Speaker and the Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum regarding engagement with the Commission on the establishment of a Youth Assembly.  While agreeing that this may be an issue to be returned to in the future, the Commission concurred with the Speaker’s view of the need to take an approach which reached as many young people as possible, including by mainstreaming youth engagement into the main business of the Assembly and its committees on issues such as mental health which the NIYF had chosen as its priority issue.


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

7.1 SP15+ Update and Review

The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Members that he had undertaken a review of the Strategic Planning 2015 and Beyond (SP15+) Programme and detailed the next steps up to the end of March 2016.

He added that Richard Stewart was now the Programme Director for the SP15+ programme.

7.2 Financial Matters

Budget 2016/17 and Commission budget setting methodology

The Clerk/Chief Executive referred to the Speaker’s meeting with the Finance Minister on 15 December 2015 and subsequent notification of the agreed draft budget for 2016/17.  The Commission welcomed the Ministers explicit recognition of the independence of the Assembly Commission in budgetary matters.

Financial Assistance to Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme

The Clerk/Chief Executive asked Members to note that a revised Financial Assistance to Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme would need to be prepared by the Commission and presented to the Assembly for approval before the end of the mandate.

Action: Commission to approve and present a revised FAPP Scheme to the Assembly prior to the end of the mandate.

Management Accounts: April – December 2015

Members noted Management Accounts for the period April to December 2015.

7.3 Legislative Programme until End of Mandate Pressures

The Clerk/Chief Executive advised that MLA guidance on financial and staffing arrangements for the end of the current mandate would issue in February.

Action: Mr Stewart, Director of Corporate Services to issue end of mandate guidance to MLAs in February.

7.4 Corporate Risk Register

The Clerk/Chief Executive referred Members to the latest version of the Corporate Risk Register which was reviewed in December 2015.

Mr Mitchell stated that he was content that the Register achieved its aims.

7.5 Commission Members – Portfolios and SARC Representative         

The Clerk/Chief Executive asked Members to consider the Commission Members’ portfolios and the appointment of its Secretariat Audit and Risk Commission (SARC) representative due to the recent reduction in the number of Directorates and the appointment of a new Commission Member.  He suggested that it would be pragmatic to let the Portfolio arrangements go into abeyance at this stage of the Mandate and for the new Commission to consider its governance arrangements.

Agreed: The Commission agreed to answer Written and Oral Questions to the Commission on a rotating basis and for a Commission Member to attend SARC as required.

Action: The Commission and Clerk/Chief Executive Office (CCEO) to rotate written and oral questions between Commission Members until the end of the mandate.

Action: CCEO to arrange for a Commission Member to attend the next SARC meeting on 22 March 2016.

7.6 Digital First EQIA Report

The Clerk/Chief Executive updated Members on the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) undertaken for the Digital First Strategy. There were no responses to the EQIA and approval was sought to progress the Strategy.

Action: Mr McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, to take forward the Digital First Strategy.

7.7 Lighting Policy – Commission Approved Days 2016

The Clerk/Chief Executive asked if Members were content to continue with the same four set days for 2016 as were agreed in 2015.

Agreed: Members agreed with the proposal.        

Action: Mr Welch to make arrangements for the building to be lit on the following days:

International Women’s Day - Purple

St Patrick’s Day - Green

12th July - Orange

11th November - Red

Mr Mitchell left the meeting at 1.45pm for agenda item 7.8

7.8 Re-appointment of SARC Independent Members


The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Members of the need to commence an external recruitment process in April/May 2016 for a new Chair of SARC as the current Chair’s appointment ends on 30 November 2016. A paper will be brought to the Commission to commence the recruitment process.

Action: Mr Stewart to bring a paper to the Commission regarding the recruitment of a new SARC Chair.

Independent Member       

The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Members that the current one year extension previously agreed by the Commission to the Independent Member’s position expires on 16 September 2016 and consideration will need to be given to extending his position by a final one year.

The Clerk/Chief Executive outlined the benefits of extending the appointment for a final year and recommended the extension. He noted that, in light of the views of Commission Members, future appointments would not have the option for extensions.

Ms Ruane stated her opposition to extensions to such contracts and opposed the recommendation.

All other Members supported the recommendation.

Agreed: It was agreed, without vote, to extend the independent member of SARC’s appointment by one final year.

Action: Mr Stewart to make arrangements to extend the independent member of SARC’s appointment by one year.

Mr Mitchell re-joined the meeting at 1.50pm.

7.9 Staffing Issue

The Clerk/Chief Executive provided an update on a current staffing issue.

Action: Mr Stewart to provide appropriate chapters from the Staff Handbook to inform Commission Members.

8. PAY AWARD 2015

Mr Stewart spoke to his paper seeking Commission Members approval of the 2015 pay award for Secretariat staff.

Agreed: Members agreed to the proposed pay offer for Secretariat staff.

Action: Mr Stewart to make arrangements to process the pay offer as detailed in his paper.

Mr Eccles, Head of Usher Services joined the meeting at 2.05pm for agenda item 9.


The Speaker welcomed Mr Eccles to the meeting.

Mr Welch spoke to his paper informing the Commission of his intention to begin work on those recommendations from the PSNI Security Review Report not requiring Commission approval. Mr Welch then asked that those recommendations requiring approval be brought back to the next meeting, together with additional information on costings.

Agreed: Members agreed that officials could begin work on the recommendations not requiring Commission approval

Action: Mr Welch to take forward those recommendations that do not require Commission approval.

Agreed: Members agreed that those recommendations requiring Commission approval be brought back for consideration to the next meeting.

Action: Mr Welch to bring the recommendations requiring Commission approval to the next meeting.


Mr Stewart spoke to his paper seeking a decision from the Commission on five recommendations regarding the use of NICS Enterprise Shared Services for the running of Assembly functions.

Officials have undertaken exercises to assess the financial and qualitative benefits or otherwise of increasing the Commission’s use of NICS shared services.

This was a significant exercise given the unique nature of the Assembly and also a source of ongoing concern for staff in Parliament Buildings.

The five recommendations considered were:

i. On cost grounds, the current provision of services by the IS Office, the HR Office (including the Pay Team) and the Procurement Offices are retained by the Commission;

ii. On service delivery grounds, the current provision of services by Building Services Branch are retained by the Commission; and

iii. The Commission assesses, at the end of the current Shared Services contract, whether the level of recurring savings that might arise from a move to Account NI for invoice processing is sufficient to overcome the uncertainties around information quality and the scale of possible future charges;

iv. Additional use is made of services provided by the Centre for Applied Learning; and

v. Account NI is used to deliver fixed asset accounting services.

Ms Ruane left the meeting at 2.13pm

Mrs Cochrane asked that it be noted that options within the private sector had not been explored as part of the review.

Members were content with the recommendations.

Action: Mr Stewart to inform Secretariat staff of the Commission’s decision regarding the use of NICS Enterprise Shared Services.

Mr Brian Devlin, Head of Information Systems Office joined the meeting at 2.18pm for agenda item 11.


The Speaker welcomed Mr Devlin to the meeting.

Mr Devlin presented a business case recommending the replacement of the   desktop PCs currently provided to all NI Assembly Members, party staff and Assembly Secretariat staff with equipment which is contemporary, efficient and reliable.

Ms Ruane rejoined the meeting at 2.22pm

Members fully supported the proposed upgrade.

Agreed: Members agreed with the business case   recommendation to replace the desktop PCs.

Action: Mr Welch and Mr Devlin to proceed with the desktop PC replacement process.


Mr Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, spoke to his paper seeking agreement by consensus from the Commission that Dr Johnston McMaster delivers lectures on the Easter Rising on 14 March 2016 and the Battle of the Somme on 27 June 2016.  Members broadly welcomed the Speaker’s approach to these events as opportunities to come together to explore the community’s shared history and noted that he would be writing to Party Leaders to advise them of the Commission’s approach.

Agreed: Members were content with the proposals.

Action: Mr Ramsey to proceed with proposed arrangements for Easter Rising and Somme “Perspectives on …” events.

Ms Susie Brown, Head of Communications and Outreach and Ms Elaine O’Neill from Politics Plus joined the meeting at 2.33pm for agenda items 13,14 and 15.


Mr McGrath spoke to his paper asking Members to note the establishment of a Speaker’s reference Group on a Gender Sensitive Assembly and also seeking approval to establish a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus on 8 March 2016.

Members voiced there support for establishing a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and praised the work of the AERC, officials and PoliticsPlus in taking the project forward.

Agreed: Members agreed with the proposal to establish a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus

Action: Mr McGrath to thank all relevant officials for their input on the Commission’s behalf.

Action: Mr McGrath to establish a Women’s Parliamentary Caucus.


Mr Ramsey informed Members of the Speaker’s intention to host ‘Assembly Women’s Week’ during the week beginning 7 March 2016 as part of his Respect Agenda. He provided details of the programme. Mr Ramsey and Ms Brown updated the Commission on the proposed artwork by Rachel Dixon.

Action: Officials to communicate details of Women’s Week with MLAs and Parties.

Action: Artwork by Rachel Dickson to be launched during Women’s Week and displayed in the Great Hall.


Ms Brown sought approval for drawings by students from the Ulster University to be exhibited in the Great Hall during March 2016.

Agreed: Members approved the proposal for an exhibition.

Action: Ms Brown to proceed with arrangements for an exhibition in the Great Hall.

16. AOB

16.1  Request to light Parliament Buildings

Members declined a request to light Parliament Buildings as the request did not meet lighting policy requirements.

Agreed: Members agreed to review the current lighting policy once a new lighting system has been procured.

Action: Mr Welch to bring a further paper to the Commission meeting in October.  


The next meeting will take place on Wednesday 2 March 2016 at 1pm in Room 106.    

The meeting ended at 2.55pm

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