MINUTES OF A RE-CONVENED
THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
AT 10.45 AM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Sean Neeson
In Attendance: Mrs C Devon, Mr R Good, Ms S McClelland, Mr T Logue, Ms C McGowan, Ms C Foster.
The Speaker welcomed members to a re-convened meeting of the Assembly Commission (adjourned from 25 February 2008) to discuss the current position surrounding a forthcoming event to be held within Parliament Buildings.
MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING
Minutes of the meeting held on 25 February 2008 were agreed with the following amendments/additions:
Mr Moutray’s iteration, “that the proposed event on 7 March would not take place” be reflected; and Mr Maginness’ statement “that both Parties voluntarily withdraw proposals for politically sensitive events” be inserted.
EVENTS AT PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
Ms McClelland tabled a paper which set out options for revising and reviewing the criteria on which events may be organised at Parliament Buildings. The paper proposed that, pending the development of an Assembly Good Relations Strategy, the Commission adopt interim criteria for events. The Interim Clerk/Director General outlined the process for developing such a policy and explained that this could take up to 18 - 24 months.
Members asked for clarification in a number of areas and gave their party views and opinions in relation to proposals contained in the paper.
Rev Coulter asked for clarity on the numbers of visitors allowed to attend any private event at Parliament Buildings. Ms McClelland agreed that this could be inserted into the draft paper.
Mr Moutray asked for clarity on Members booking events that they did not attend. Ms McClelland explained that while it was not always observed, the rule was that a sponsoring MLA should be present before an event begins.
Mr Maginness stressed the importance of the building being accessible to everyone and added that his party supported the interim policy outlined in the paper.
Mr Neeson iterated the importance devising a good relations policy. While he supported the idea of events requiring cross community support, he opposed the reference to ‘designated nationalist / designated unionist’ contained in Annex A (Members Events) in the paper. He explained that his party agreed with the general thrust of the paper.
Mr Butler relayed that it was unfortunate that a comprehensive events policy was not in place but felt that the paper did not solve the problem at hand. He explained that his party would respond to the paper in due course.
Mr Logue informed the Commission that the Assembly’s Equality Scheme had recently been approved by the Equality Commission and added that work could now begin on developing a good relations strategy.
Mr Butler queried whether legal advice had been sought in advance of drafting the paper and bringing forward the proposal at an earlier meeting to adopt a moratorium until a good relations strategy was in place. The Interim Clerk/Director General confirmed that advice had been sought and explained that the Commission could decide that events should require cross community support.
Mr Maginness raised the issue of complying with Section 75 and said that it would be good practice for an interim policy to require cross community support.
Mr Moutray advised that while he agreed with a moratorium his party wished to add an amendment to the paper - that ‘Party rooms will only be used for business relating to the role of the Assembly’.
Discussion took place around this phrase being introduced into the draft document. If was generally felt that policing this would prove difficult and the stipulation would require the good will of all parties. It was further felt that restricting events in party rooms could impact negatively on the Commission’s commitment to engagement and outreach.
The Speaker proposed an adjournment to allow Members time to discuss the current wording with Parties/others.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
It was noted that the Members’ Bar would close for two weeks during Recess to allow for redecoration.
DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission will take place on Thurs 13 March 2008 at 2:00 pm in room 106 and will include a discussion with Legal Counsel.
The meeting ended at 12:35 pm