MEETING OF THE CHAIRPERSONS' LIAISON GROUP
TUESDAY 23 SEPTEMBER 2008
Present: Mr Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan MLA
Mrs Carmel Hanna MLA
Mr Paul Maskey MLA
Dr William McCrea MP MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Robin Newton MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey, MLA
Mrs Iris Robinson MP MLA
Mr David Simpson MP MLA
Mr Jimmy Spratt MLA
Mr Mervyn Storey MLA
In Attendance: Mr John Stewart, Director of Clerking
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant
Mr Damien Martin, Clerk Assistant
Mr John Torney, Principal Clerk
Mrs Christine Darrah, Clerk to the Liaison Group
Mr Paul Breen, Clerical Supervisor
Mr Jonathan Young, Clerical Officer
Apologies: Mr Mark Durkan MP MLA
Mr Danny Kennedy MLA
The Lord Morrow MLA
Mr Patsy McGlone MLA
The meeting opened at 12.30 p.m. in closed session
1. Chairperson’s introduction
The Chairperson welcomed all present to the meeting.
2. Introduction of new Director of Clerking
The Chairperson welcomed the new Director of Clerking, Mr John Stewart, to the Liaison Group meeting. Mr Stewart expressed his pleasure at joining the Assembly Secretariat as Director of Clerking. He outlined his previous career experience and paid tribute to the work of the Clerk Assistants and their colleagues in managing the change programme that the Directorate was currently going through. He indicated that either the Clerk/Director-General or he would attend the Liaison Group meetings.
3. Minutes of the meeting of 24 June 2008
The minutes of the meeting of 24 June 2008 were agreed.
Mr Robin Newton joined the meeting at 12.35 p.m.
4. Matters Arising from the meeting on 24 June 2008
Publication of members’ attendance at committee meetings
The Chairpersons considered the proposed format for the publication of information on members’ attendance at committee meetings on the committee web pages.
Agreed: The information should be published in the format proposed.
Agreed: Committee members and Party Whips should be advised of the date on which the information would be placed on the website.
Mr Barry McElduff, Mrs Carmel Hanna and Ms Sue Ramsey joined the meeting at 12.38 p.m.
Mr Mervyn Storey joined the meeting at 12.39 p.m.
5. New Clerking and Reporting Directorate Structure
The Chairperson, on behalf of the Liaison Group, congratulated Mr Damien Martin on his temporary promotion to Clerk Assistant.
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant, outlined the new Clerking and Reporting Directorate Structure in which both she and Mr Martin each had responsibility for a number of Statutory and Standing Committees. Ms Dunwoody provided information on the training programme that was in place for new clerks and the handover arrangements that were in progress. She explained that the Clerk Assistants and the Principal Clerk, Mr John Torney, would attend meetings for a period of time once handovers had been completed to provide support and procedural back-up to the new clerks.
Mrs Iris Robinson joined the meeting at 12.42 p.m.
6. Interaction between Committees and Departments
The Chairpersons discussed in detail a range of difficulties being experienced by committees in relation to the late receipt of papers from departments for committee packs, late responses to correspondence, agenda items/items on the work programme being deferred at short notice and items of business being presented by departments for consideration by committees with little advance notice and a very tight deadline for a response.
Agreed: The matter should be raised by Assembly officials at the next meeting of the Assembly Liaison Group and the clerk to the Liaison Group should write to officials in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister highlighting the concerns of the chairpersons.
Agreed: The situation should be monitored across all committees and the matter reviewed at the next meeting.
Mrs Carmel Hanna left the meeting at 1.05 p.m.
7. Procedures for handling Freedom of Information Requests
The Chairpersons considered a letter from the First Minister and deputy First Minister regarding procedural guidance agreed by the Executive on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. The guidance included proposed handling arrangements for FoI requests that committees may receive for information that has been supplied to them by Northern Ireland departments. The chairpersons noted that the proposed guidance formalised the procedures and principles that were operating between committees and departments.
Agreed: The proposed handling arrangements for FoI requests that committees may receive for information that has been supplied to them by Northern Ireland departments should be adopted.
8. Revised Procedures for the Appointment of Specialist Advisers
The chairpersons discussed the procedures in place for the appointment of specialist advisers to committees and, in particular, the processes involved in procuring specialist advisers.
Agreed: The procedures for the appointment of specialist advisers should be revised to incorporate the Assembly’s procurement guidelines.
Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting at 1.15 p.m.
Mr Robin Newton left the meeting at 1.16 p.m.
9. Forward Work Programme
The chairpersons noted the work programme for the period September 2008 to January 2009.
10. Date, Time and Venue of Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Liaison Group will take place on Tuesday 21 October 2008 at 12.30 p.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1.20 p.m.
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
21 October 2008