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Present: Mr Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan MLA
Dr William McCrea MP MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Robin Newton MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey, MLA
Mr David Simpson MP MLA
Mr Mervyn Storey MLA

In Attendance: Mr John Stewart, Director
Dr Gareth McGrath, Director (for item 6 only)
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant
Mr Damien Martin, Clerk Assistant
Mr John Torney, Principal Clerk
Mrs Christine Darrah, Clerk to the Liaison Group
Ms Marie Austin, Assistant Clerk
Mr Paul Breen, Clerical Supervisor
Mr Jonathan Young, Clerical Officer

Apologies: Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Mark Durkan MP MLA
Mrs Carmel Hanna MLA
Mr Danny Kennedy MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Patsy McGlone MLA
The Lord Morrow MLA
Mrs Iris Robinson MP MLA
Mr Jimmy Spratt MLA

The meeting opened at 12.35 p.m. in closed session

1. Chairperson’s introduction

The Chairperson welcomed all present to the meeting.

2. Minutes of the meeting of 21 October 2008

The minutes of the meeting of 21 October 2008 were agreed.

3. Matters Arising from the meeting on 21 October 2008

Publication of members’ attendance at committee meetings

The Chairperson advised the Liaison Group that the information on attendance at committee meetings had been published on the Assembly website and that committee members and Party Whips had been notified in advance of the date of publication.

Departmental guidance on the provision of information and evidence to committees

The Chairperson informed the Liaison Group that Committee Office staff had met with officials from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to progress work on developing guidance for departments on the provision of papers and responses to committees. The Liaison group noted that a copy of the revised guidance on timescales would be available for consideration by the Liaison Group in the near future.

Mr Robin Newton joined the meeting at 12.38 p.m.
Mr Mervyn Storey joined the meeting at 12.39 p.m.

4. Information on committee visits/meetings held outside Parliament Buildings

The chairpersons noted the information provided on committee visits/meetings held outside Parliament Buildings. During the period 1 April 2008 to 31 October 2008, thirty visits had been undertaken by committees. Twenty meetings had taken place outside of Parliament Buildings, many in conjunction with a committee visit. A further up-date will be provided in six-months time.

5. Update on staffing matters

Mr Cahal Boylan joined the meeting at 12.44 p.m.

The Chairperson welcomed Mr John Stewart, Director of Clerking and Reporting, to the meeting.

Mr Stewart briefed the Liaison Group on progress in relation to staffing for the clerking directorate, including the arrangements in place for newly appointed staff with regard to training and support.

The chairpersons were informed that there would be a further intake of staff at Clerical Supervisor and Clerical Officer grades over the coming months and that a competition for the Assistant Clerk grade would commence in the near future. In the meantime, the Director General had sought the assistance of other directorates in loaning staff to the clerking directorate until permanent staff became available. However, it was highlighted that committee teams would still be under significant pressure over the coming months.

Mr Stewart assured chairpersons that progress would be assessed and monitored and that he would communicate with them throughout the entire recruitment/training process.

The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

6. Presentation on the draft Assembly Engagement Strategy by the Director of Engagement, Dr Gareth McGrath

The Chairperson welcomed Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Engagement, to the meeting.

Dr McGrath briefed the Liaison Group on the draft Assembly Engagement Strategy. Areas covered included: the purpose and principles of the strategy; engaging Members; engaging committees; engaging the press; and, engaging the public, including children and young people. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Members welcomed the draft Assembly Engagement Strategy, and in particular, the emphasis placed on engaging with schools and other education groups. However, a number of issues were raised including the limited space available in Parliament Buildings, especially in committee rooms, and the difficulties faced by some schools in getting to Parliament Buildings.

The draft Assembly Engagement Strategy will be considered further at the next meeting.

Agreed: It was agreed that the circulation figures for Stormont Live should be sought.

Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting at 12.54 p.m.
Dr William McCrea left the meeting at 1.19 p.m.

7. Draft Standing Order for Joint Committees

The Liaison Group considered the draft Standing Order for Joint Committees. The draft Standing Order would allow for a matter of joint concern to be disposed of by one committee; disposed of by the relevant committees sitting concurrently; or, disposed of by the establishment of an ad hoc joint committee.

Agreed: The Liaison Group agreed that it was content with the draft Standing Order for Joint Committees.

Mr Barry McIlduff left the meeting at 1.26 p.m.

8. Letter from the Speaker on committee motions

The Liaison Group considered a letter from the Speaker to the Chairperson, setting out the new arrangements for moving and winding debates on committee reports. Members noted that motions relating to committee reports would be allocated up to 15 minutes for moving and 15 minutes for winding. If any further limited time was required, it would be at the Speaker’s or the Deputy Speaker’s discretion provided the Table had been alerted in good time.

9. Up-dated staff contact details

Up-dated Committee Office staff contact details were circulated for members’ information.

10. Any other business


11. Date, Time and Venue of Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Liaison Group will take place on Tuesday 20 January 2009 at 12.30 p.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 1.34 p.m.

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
20 January 2009

23 September 2008 / Menu