Mr D Kennedy (Chairman)
Mr O Gibson
Mr T Hamilton
Mr B McElduff
Mr G McHugh
Mr K Robinson

Mr S Wilson (Deputy Chairman)
Mr T Gallagher
Ms P Lewsley

In Attendance:
Mrs C Darrah (Committee Clerk)
Mrs V Artt (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Ms M Austin (Assistant Committee Clerk)
Mr D Stevenson (Clerical Supervisor)

The Committee met at 10.35 a.m. in private session.

1. Minutes of the Meeting of 25 April 2002

The minutes of the meeting of 25 April 2002 were agreed.

2. Matters Arising

  1. A copy of a letter to the Minister of Education registering the Committee's concern at the current financial difficulties faced by the North Eastern Education and Library Board and the likely consequences of the situation had been circulated. The reply from the Minister was received at the beginning of the meeting and immediately circulated for consideration. Following a brief discussion the Committee agreed that urgent action was necessary and that the Minister should be informed that members wished to discuss the matter with him at the earliest opportunity.
  2. A copy of the agreed response to the Department of Education's Draft Budget Position Report had been circulated for information.
  3. A copy of the detailed bids submitted by the Department of Education for Executive Programme Infrastructure Funds had been circulated. The Committee noted that its recommended bid to improve accommodation in small rural schools had been submitted and account had been taken of its other identified priorities.

3. Chairman's Business

  1. The Chairman informed members that a letter from the Chief Executive of the Youth Council requesting an opportunity to make a presentation to the Committee on crucial issues including financial difficulties currently facing the Youth Service had been received. The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for a meeting with representatives of the Youth Service in the near future.
  2. The Chairman reminded the Committee of the invitations received to attend the launch of the Reports from the Northern Ireland Task Forces on Autism and Dyslexia on Tuesday 7 May 2002 and the Europe Day reception on 9 May 2002. It was agreed that members wishing to attend either event should inform the Clerk who would make the necessary arrangements.

4. Committee Business

  1. A response from the Department of Finance and Personnel regarding bids by Departments to help counteract the effect of low interest rates on organisations who were unable to generate as much interest as before on funds had been circulated. The Committee noted the position and agreed to monitor the situation closely.
  2. A response from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister which set out the new approach being taken regarding the Single Equality Bill had been circulated. The Committee noted the position and agreed to consider the issue further when the outcome of the Equality Commission's Inquiry into relevant issues concerning the exemption of school teachers under the Fair Employment Order was available.

Mr B McElduff joined the meeting at 10.45 a.m.

  1. A copy of the response from the Department of Education to the proposed Regional Transportation Strategy and further information on the current position concerning the use of Education and Library Board buses for purposes other than transporting children to and from school had been circulated. Following a short discussion the Committee agreedto submit further comments to the Committee for Regional Development regarding the use of Board buses for other purposes and highlighting the Reviews of School Transport and the position concerning concessionary fares currently being undertaken by the Education and Library Boards.
  2. The Committee noted information provided by the Minister of Education on the number of teachers who were successful in their application for a Threshold Award. The Committee expressed concern regarding the cost of administering the scheme and agreed to request further information regarding the 68 applications that were unsuccessful.
  3. The Committee considered a synopsis of the discussion with officials from the Department of Education on the Review of Government Office Accommodation and further information provided concerning the number of staff who wished to move to and from Rathgael House. The Committee agreed a number of issues to be included in a draft response which would be discussed at the next meeting.
  4. A draft Committee Work Programme for May and June 2002 was circulated. Following a discussion the work programme, including evidence sessions relating to the Committee's Inquiry into Early Years Learning in Ballymena, Armagh and Enniskillen, was agreed.

Mr O Gibson left the meeting at 11.15 a.m.

5. Briefing by the Assembly Bill Office on Primary Legislation

The Chairman welcomed Mr Martin Wilson, Clerk of Bills to the meeting to brief the Committee on the handling of Primary Legislation in the Assembly.

Mr Wilson outlined the Assembly Stages of Bills, focusing in particular on the role of Committees. The question and answer session covered a number of issues including:

  • the importance of a Department consulting in advance with Committees on the issues covered by a Bill;
  • accelerated passage of Bills;
  • methods of dealing with general clauses which cover important issues;
  • extension of the Committee Stage;
  • the introduction of Committee amendments;
  • the recent changes to the Further Consideration Stage; and
  • the role of the Bill Office and the support provided to Committees.

The Chairman thanked Mr Wilson for a very useful and informative discussion and he left the meeting.

6. Committee Responses

  1. The Committee considered a further reply to the Minister of Education on the draft Household Response Form and draft Detailed Response Booklet for the Review of Post-Primary Education. The response was agreed subject to a number of amendments.
  2. The Committee agreed that consideration of a draft response to the Committee for Finance and Personnel's Inquiry into European Structural Funds should be deferred until the next scheduled meeting.

7. Date and Time of Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Committee was scheduled for Thursday 9 May 2002 at 10.15 a.m. in Room 135, Parliament Buildings.

8. Any Other Business

The Chairman, on behalf of Mr Gibson, highlighted the publication of a Policy Discussion Document prepared for the Rural Community Network on Small Rural Schools in Northern Ireland. The Committee agreed that briefing on the document would be helpful and instructed the Clerk to make the necessary arrangements.

The Committee was adjourned at 12.15 p.m.

Committee Chairman
May 2002

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